The no’s have it
Measure A’s Otterson Bridge collapsed by voters
Maybe it was the full moon, maybe it was the newfangled voting machines, or maybe it was the classic grass-roots campaign run by the opponents. Whatever it was, it worked, as foes of Measure A convinced enough voters that the $2.9 million Otterson Bridge and road extension was not in the interest of Chico at this time.
With fewer than one out of every three of the city’s registered voters bothering to cast a ballot, Measure A lost by a 10 percent margin, 5,097 against and 4,181 in favor. There are still some provisional ballots to count, but not enough to change the outcome, say county election officials.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Michael Pike, a leader of Neighbors for Environmental and Fiscal Responsibility, which ran the anti-A campaign. “We know we had broad community support.”
But Hegan Lane Business Park owner Doug Guillon, whose development would have benefited most from the project, was fuming the day after his defeat. Guillon blamed the loss on “incredible amounts of misinformation” spread by Measure A opponents and vowed to build out the 20 empty acres left on his Hegan Lane land and then leave California for good.
“This is all bullshit,” Guillon said Wednesday morning. “[The opponents] are people throwing stones over a fence, and they can’t even build a fence. … I’ve spent more than $2.5 million trying to make this city a better place, and I get portrayed as this greedy bastard. It’s not right.”
He said he’s frustrated with the anti-growth forces in California and said he plans to move to Idaho before the year’s end. “This was the final straw,” he said. “I’m getting on a plane today, as a matter of fact.”
If passed, the measure would have amended the General Plan and put $2.9 million of city money into the extension of Otterson Drive out of the Hegan Lane Business Park, built a bridge over Comanche Creek before tying into the Midway-Park Avenue intersection. Proponents argued the project would alleviate future traffic problems in the area and help the park lure quality businesses and jobs to town.
Opponents said the project was a taxpayer giveaway to a private interest and that it would ruin the riparian habitat along the creek.
Unlike past elections, when ballot results were not posted till the wee hours of the morning and a significant number of absentee votes not fully counted until days later, this election’s official results were posted only 80 minutes after the polls closed. For the first time, voters cast their ballots by touching a computer screen. The vote was then electronically downloaded at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library and posted on the county elections Web site.
Still, there were technical difficulties at at least one polling place. Darci Bruggman, who showed up to vote at a Chico church, said a piece of equipment stopped working and at least a dozen people had to sit down at a table—in front of a stack of Bibles, no less—and vote using provisional ballots.
“It was frustrating,” she said. “I felt so sorry for those poor polling people. … It’s a good thing it wasn’t a major election where there were a lot of things to vote on.”
A gathering of A opponents at Moxie’s Café whooped their delight when the computer screen they were monitoring showed final results at 9:20 p.m.
“I believe that there were reasoned arguments for and against Measure A,” said Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan, who had voted against the bridge and extension when it came before council.
He said he and Councilmembers Coleen Jarvis and Maureen Kirk would place on the next council agenda a discussion on whether to buy the property where the project was slated to be built and preserve it as creekside greenway.
Jarvis said one lesson to be learned by city leaders was, “If you want to make plans for traffic circulation, you’d better include the neighbors in the discussion.”
Jim Goodwin, executive director of the Chico Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the pro-Otterson Drive effort, said the coalition is “obviously disappointed.”
“In a special election, voter turnout is the key,” he said, believing that there still may be thousands of people in the community who support the project. “I don’t think this is in any way a mandate from the community.”
Goodwin also saw some irony in the vote. “The fact that we lost doesn’t change the fact that the problems are still there,” he said. The traffic problem will gradually become more visible, and jobs that could have sprung from the improved business park entrance may not materialize, he said.
Goodwin said the proponents have yet to regroup and decide whether to try again, but he acknowledged it’s frustrating to lose an election that many believe never should have taken place.
“This is why we have City Council elections every two years," he said. "They make budget decisions."