The newsmakers of 2013
Here are some of the people who will be on our radar this year
The new year is a time for looking forward, and historically we’ve done so by spotlighting some of the people we think will play important roles and be worthy of attention in the coming year. As always, they are a mix of obvious candidates—Chico’s new city manager, for example, and our new mayor—and some less obvious but just as noteworthy, such as the man behind the remarkable California Regional Theater. Read our profiles and see if you agree that these are people worth watching this year.
Mayor with a mission
Now that she’s Chico’s mayor, after six years on the City Council, Mary Goloff says she wants to shake things up a bit. She mentions in particular her upcoming appointments to various council committees, such as Internal Affairs and Finance. Goloff says she intends to surprise people with some of her choices.
Right now, Goloff recognizes that the city is “at a place where we have to care for our resources.” Staff is stretched thin, the reserves are lower than they should be, and voters just turned down Measure J, costing the city $900,000 annually in lost telephone-tax revenue—on top of the millions in redevelopment and vehicle-license funds lost last year.
That’s a good part of the reason why, in her first significant act as mayor, she voted against a proposal to set up a city-led ad hoc committee on homelessness. “We already have the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force,” she explained. Another committee would have required considerable staff and council time.
She welcomes the three newly elected council members, Tami Ritter, Randall Stone and Sean Morgan, all of whom are relatively young. “One of the things I’m really excited about is that we’re seeing more engagement and more leadership from the next generation,” Goloff said.
Among her goals for the year is figuring out how to maintain the city’s commitment to building affordable housing without redevelopment funds. “It’s going to be challenging, but I want to do everything I can to support that. Chico wins in every way when we invest in affordable housing.”
She also wants to tackle the alcohol issue and says she is looking forward to working with Chico State on it. “The university has waited too long and done too little to address this issue,” she said.
She also would like to get the University Police Department more involved in patrolling student areas of town. “The city spends a disproportionate amount of its public-safety dollars on a very small segment of the community. I’d like to leverage the university police to do more. I think it’s a fair conversation for us to be having.”
Finally, she wants to get serious about implementing the recently passed Economic Development Action Plan, even if it means devoting city staff time to doing so.
“I’ve always seen myself as a steward of the public interest,” she said. “Now I see [the council] as needing to be stewards of the public trust. So I’m rethinking how we do things. It’s important that, as mayor, I facilitate conversation that challenges my fellow council members and asks them what’s in the community’s best interest.”
Making musical theater
“This theater was born out of a passion for community,” explained Bob Maness, executive director of the new California Regional Theater. In fact, during the course of his interview, Maness mentioned the word “community” no fewer than 10 times. And the theater he started at the beginning of 2012 is certainly well on the way to becoming a vibrant part of both the theater community and the greater Chico community as well.
Staging its shows at the Chico Unified School District’s spacious Center for the Arts on the Pleasant Valley High School campus, the company has been attracting impressive crowds for its ambitiously staged versions of classic Broadway musicals, from Peter Pan to The Music Man to the most recent production, Oliver! The Musical, which drew 2,150 audience members to its six-performance run. CRT even took third place for Best Local Theater in the CN&R’s annual Best of Chico after only a few months in existence.
While producing huge musicals requires a lot of people working together—Oliver! by itself featured a cast and crew of nearly 100, including a live orchestra—it’s the vision of its enthusiastic and soft-spoken leader, Maness, that got things started.
A teacher and theater-arts instructor at Chico Christian School by day, the husband and father of six got his introduction to theater as a teenager in Los Angeles. Maness’ high school had a program that brought in industry professionals to the school to teach students all facets of the craft of theater, and after four years of immersion he was hooked.
He went on to work in theater around the state, before moving to this area (first Orland, then Chico) 13 years ago. After working on local plays at Chico Theater Company (directing, among other titles, Hairspray and Fiddler on the Roof) and at Neighborhood Church, Maness decided he wanted to start something new for the community.
After spending the year renting out spaces for rehearsals, two months ago CRT signed a long-term lease on a huge building on Morrow Lane with plenty of room for full-scale rehearsals, set-building and holding two to three children’s theater classes per week.
“We cast the community,” Maness said, reasserting CRT’s commitment. “We love on them and we care for them and we create a learning environment.
“Our vision is to really give back to the community. Our intention is not to make money. [We do] pay staff fairly and correctly, but then the money goes back in.”
In addition to paying for the shows and the people involved, a portion from each performance is set aside to donate to a particular charity. Oliver!, for example, made enough for CRT to donate $6,000 to the Families for Children Adoption and Foster Care Agency.
“It’s been a great experience,” Maness said about CRT’s debut year. And with plays like Into the Woods (Feb. 8-17), Seussical! The Musical (April 26-May 5) and a massive production of Les Misérables (October) on the calendar, 2013 looks just as promising.
Increasing access to good food
“I would say Monica Bell is going to be the big mover and shaker for Cultivating Community [NV] next year. … She has done great things, and I love working with her.”
That’s how Stephanie Elliott, spokeswoman for Cultivating Community NV and GRUB Education Program, put it when she recently recommended Bell as someone to watch in the coming year.
Bell, the 26-year-old workshop-series coordinator for Chico-based Cultivating Community NV—which approximately a year ago was the recipient of a $500,000 grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to help increase local access to nutritious food—sat down with the CN&R recently and shared her thoughts.
“The Cultivating Community workshop series was designed to increase access to local food for populations that are not already going to the farmers’ market, or buying local or growing local, primarily because of barriers to access such as income,” Bell said.
In addition to planning and coordinating twice-monthly (often no-cost) workshops over the past year hosted by local gardening experts on such topics as gardening with edible perennials, drying and otherwise preserving fruits and vegetables, saving seeds and fermenting sauerkraut and kimchi, Bell has led workshops herself on such subjects as composting, container gardening, and drip-irrigation installation.
Bell was excited to announce that Cultivating Community NV was recently awarded “a whole new round of financial support that will allow communities [of people] that define themselves as ‘access-challenged’ to creatively access local food.”
A new organization within Cultivating Community NV—called Cultivating Community Advocates (CCA)—is being formed; its director “will administer mini-grants to a number of groups who set forth proposals showing how they will use the money to, for example, involve their [particular] community in a community gardening project or shop at the farmers’ market together. And if they had, say, transportation or language barriers to coming to workshops, the money could go for a shuttle or translator.”
“In the past year, workshops were mainly geared toward home gardeners and community gardeners,” Bell noted. In 2013, the scope of the workshops will expand to include teaching small-farm skills and about cottage-food production, “now that [California Assembly Bill 1616—the cottage-food operations food-safety bill] has passed.”
Bell is also excited about Cultivating Community’s upcoming certification program “for folks who have demonstrated their commitment to learn about and serve the local food movement by attending a number of workshops and volunteering a number of hours in a community garden or at the [Cultivating Community] farmers’ market table.”
Go to www.cultivatingcommunitynv.org to learn more about Cultivating Community NV.
—Christine G.K. LaPado-Breglia
A chief for all seasons
Cop shows and pop culture have lead us to believe police chiefs are high-strung, angry individuals constantly embroiled in shouting matches with rogue officers and city officials behind frosted windows and slatted blinds. Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle—who took the office of Chico’s top cop last June—couldn’t be further from this stereotype.
From his comfortable corner office at the Chico Police Department, decorated with family pictures and a large bowl brimming with Christmas chocolates, Trostle rules with more of an open hand than an iron fist. His boyish face and “aw, shucks” demeanor partially obscure a sharp political mind and straightforward problem-solving philosophy based on cooperation and community involvement.
This approach was apparent as Trostle ran through the department’s top priorities for 2013. For each of the items, he offered a list of people and organizations the police intend to partner with to best address these concerns.
“The police can’t solve all social ills,” he said, summarizing his holistic approach. “It takes a community to make a place safe for everybody.”
The first issue Trostle mentioned was crime and violence, citing a spate of stabbings, sexual assaults and other incidents that have plagued Chico the past year. He said the department is always looking at new staffing models to make the best use of the city’s limited resources.
Trostle’s second priority is Chico’s alcohol issues, and he mentioned 2012’s five student deaths and Chico’s persistent party-school reputation (Trostle himself attended Chico State during the tumultuous late-’80s, when Playboy gave the university the dubious honor of naming it America’s top party school). “I’m not saying we need to ban alcohol and that alcohol is always bad, but we have this culture of alcohol that needs to change.”
He named homelessness as the third priority, and was quick to acknowledge it is a complex and multi-layered issue. “When it comes to homelessness, the police’s main problem is the section of the homeless community that displays anti-social behavior. To deal with the bigger picture, it’s important we work with everyone from local businesses to Butte County Behavioral Health.”
Mental-health issues were the fourth priority Trostle named. Again, he said the Police Department’s responsibility needs to be limited. “It’s important we find out what our role needs to be and how we can support other solutions,” he said.
Trostle said his history of military service, Chico State education, and a lifetime of working in law enforcement in Butte County give him a variety of perspectives as well as experience-based knowledge. “I’ve met a lot of different people along the way,” he said. “It’s my goal to make this department as inclusive and transparent as possible.”
Two soaring voices
MaMuse’s trajectory over the past few years has been much like the folk duo’s music—sincere and truly captivating. Made up of vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting, MaMuse continues to capture the hearts of locals, but the two have also been steadily making their presence known beyond the cozy confines of Chico.
And 2012 turned out to be an exceptionally big year in that regard. MaMuse released its third album, Integration of the Awkward, which includes an unabashedly positive message delivered by way of Longaker and Nutting’s otherworldly vocal harmonies. And the two also just returned from playing a handful of shows in Hawaii, where Nutting says they met other musicians and artists who likely will play into MaMuse’s 2013 plans.
“I feel like this year is going to bring a lot of creativity in where we play, and in creative collaboration,” she said.
Certainly the most noteworthy event of the past year was MaMuse’s appearance on A Prairie Home Companion in October, where the women not only performed (including a lovely rendition of “Hallelujah”), but also won the show’s Duet Contest (beating out 750 other entrants and five other finalists) while engaging in some good-natured banter with host Garrison Keillor.
“They told us from the very first phone call that it’s a competition, but that we had already won just by being picked,” Nutting recalled. “We just tried to enjoy it. We went into it like, ‘Who are we going to meet?’ What is Garrison Keillor like? What’s it like being picked up by a limo?’”
Needless to say, the appearance exposed MaMuse to a larger audience. And Longaker and Nutting are looking to play some prominent gigs in 2013, including the Oregon Country Fair, the Sisters Folk Festival and possibly a trip to Indonesia for the BaliSpirit Festival. Nutting also hints at touring with some noteworthy names, although she won’t divulge the whos or the whens quite yet.
Nutting says it’s a balance between looking ahead to bigger and better things, but remaining grounded and comfortable in what they do. MaMuse is still very much a group for the people, and Longaker and Nutting are outspoken about their proclivity for playing house shows. That’s likely not to change, even as the women continue to grow as people and musicians.
“It’s the ultimate setting,” said Nutting of performing house shows. “The lack of distractions; there’s no bar—it’s just us and a home. There’s a lot of love in a home.”
Fresh faces on the council
Tami Ritter, Sean Morgan, Randall Stone
Three people worth keeping an eye on this year are the three newly elected Chico City Council members: Tami Ritter, Sean Morgan and Randall Stone.
Ritter has long been involved with local service agencies, including the Torres Community Shelter and Habitat for Humanity. Homelessness was often cited during the council election campaign as a major problem in Chico. Morgan is a business management instructor at Chico State and could help reinforce the “town-gown” relationship between the school and the city. Stone is a financial planner and builder of affordable housing who says progressives see him as too conservative and conservatives as too progressive, which shows he is open-minded.
We asked the three about their first impressions serving on the council, the important issues facing the city, and if they had any regrets this early in the game.
Ritter said her first impression was of the amount of homework involved.
“There’s a lot of reading, there is a lot of researching, and just really educating myself,” she said. “There is a lot more detail and nuance that I would have ever imagined. And we haven’t had anything huge come before us yet.”
Ritter said the important issues include the city’s financial state. “Everyone agrees that the most important issue is the budget and finances,” she said. “We need to get into a better position where we can begin to rebuild our reserves.”
She said she’d like to take a lead roll in how the city addresses homelessness. “The idea that we can somehow fix homelessness is maybe not really the best approach,” she said. “The city is a service organization, and the services we provide are not just to those with money or houses, it is to all of the residents of the city.”
As of yet she has no regrets. “But I’ll keep you posted,” she promised.
Morgan said one of his first impressions was how well the council and city staff get along. “In our first closed-session meeting I was really impressed by everyone, especially Brian [Nakamura], the city manager,” he said. “There was a lot of respect. I guess being excited and optimistic is the best way to explain it.”
Important issues include fiscal conservatism. “I don’t think anybody has a great handle on where the city finances are,” he said. “But I think that will change in the next couple of weeks.”
He said there are plans to create a partnership between the city and Chico State’s Center for Entrepreneurship to work with the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and the Downtown Chico Business Association to create student internships for local businesses.
“This would be mutually beneficial,” he said. “Some students might stay and maybe even start their own businesses, and I think I’m in a unique position here.”
He said he has no regrets and that the first council meeting went exceedingly well. “I think everybody else felt that way,” he said. “But then again, maybe I’m just the naive one of the bunch.”
Stone said one of his first impressions on the job was that he couldn’t let it become “business as usual.”
“The worst thing I think an elected official can do is to sit behind the dais or on a committee and not get involved,” he said. “I’ve always believed that committees breed complacency. I like to get in there and get my hands dirty.”
And that is what he’s done, going on a police ride-along that proved quite exciting, as well as spending time with the Fire Department and a local waste-management company.
The city’s budget is the most important and immediate issue on the council’s menu, he said. “Unquestionably economic development is key to the problem,” he said. “I don’t want to poster-child the homeless thing, but it could be keeping businesses from moving downtown, and that is what we should be encouraging.”
He said with the city’s projected budget shortfall and the failure to pass the cell phone tax, the City Council and staff have to figure out “how to do things faster, more efficiently and cheaper.”
His only regret, he said, is that he failed to convince progressive voters that he was not the conservative many of them believed he was. “There was a sense that I am much more conservative than I really am,” he said.
Digging out of a hole
It didn’t take Chico’s new city manager long to discover the best ways to learn about his new home: walking and bicycling. Since assuming his post on Aug. 21, he’s bicycled all over town and walked much of it, especially downtown. You can see a lot more if you get out of your car, he says.
He wants to meet as many people, especially business owners, as possible, he says. He and his wife, Sharon, have a Saturday-morning ritual: hit the farmers’ market, have some coffee or chai tea, and walk around downtown, dropping into businesses.
He has also begun hosting, along with Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Katie Simmons, regular “Meet the City Manager” sessions to which they invite several local business owners for coffee and conversation.
So far “it’s going great,” he said during a recent interview in his third-floor office at City Hall. “I love Chico. I love the community, the people. They’ve been so receptive in welcoming me.”
He’s taken on his new job at a tough time. Although the state’s economy is improving, the city has been hit by so many revenue losses—first vehicle-license fees, then redevelopment funds, and most recently the failure of Measure J, resulting in a $900,000 hit to the city budget—that he has to focus on digging the city out of a fiscal hole.
The city needs to become more effective and efficient, he says, and it needs to help the business community grow, which in turn will increase tax revenues.
He also wants to bolster public safety, which he defines as not only police and fire, but also the safety of our streets. Perhaps because he’s a bicyclist, he knows how dangerous chuck-holed streets can be.
And he wants city government to be more open and transparent, and he wants it to be progress-driven, not process-driven. “Whatever we do, let’s make it purposeful,” he said.
The best way to promote efficiency, he says, is to make better use of technology. Too many departments that could be using e-tablets in the field are using paper, and people too often have to come to City Hall to do business with the city—whether it’s applying for a license or submitting development plans—that could be done more efficiently online.
“Those are the kinds of investments we’re going to be making, and that’s why it’s critical to rebuild our accounts and reserves.”