Top stories of 2005
One year ago the introduction to this collection of stories began, “With the war raging in Iraq…” The only difference, this was not an election year. Oh wait. Indeed it was a “special” election year in which the state flushed millions of dollars for eight ballot measures that all went down to defeat, signaling that the governor’s glitzy popularity had finally eroded.
The president, too, just elected last year with the help of Republican voodoo in Ohio, saw his star descend as people finally began to realize they’d been bamboozled on the war, Social Security reform, administration competence during emergencies, complying with the Constitution and on and on. Like a bad dream, 2005 is over. Maybe we’ll stay awake for 2006.
Locally we had more of the same—bad frat behavior, hints of Chico-style racism, national attention for embarrassing decisions, school closures, crime, violence and hints of scandal in the county government. Oh yeah, and we got baseball back.
Frats under fire
Although Chico fraternities have had their problems in the past, it was the death of 21-year-old Matthew Carrington after a bizarre hazing ritual that put them under the microscope this year, not only by the Chico State administration, but by news outlets all over the world.
In April, Chico State President Zingg called nearly 1,000 Greeks to the Bell Memorial Union auditorium and told them that the Greek system would no longer operate as drinking clubs under the guise of fraternities and sororities or continue to endanger students in any way.
“You will no longer be an embarrassment to yourselves, your national organizations, your university and your host city,” Zingg said.
It was the first of Zingg’s two speeches, which came after Carrington died in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, when he and his pledge brother Michael Quintana were told to drink large quantities of water while exercising in the cold basement of the Chi Tau fraternity house.
Seven men were charged with hazing, with three of them facing additional charges of involuntary manslaughter. When all was said and done, all seven pleaded guilty and are currently serving sentences ranging from 30 days to one year in Butte County Jail.
“It’s very surreal,” said the deceased pledge’s father Michael Carrington, after the sentences were handed down. “I felt completely powerless in there. Any piece of outside information doesn’t change a thing. I mean, my son is just gone and there’s nothing that will ever bring him back.”
Adding to the Greeks’ problems was the number of alcohol-related incidents this year, most notably 19-year-old Butte College student Richard Amador, who nearly died from alcohol poisoning at the Sigma Chi fraternity house two weeks before Carrington’s death.
But it didn’t stop there.
A motion was made this year by the Interfraternity Council to expel Phi Kappa Tau for its participation in the making of a hardcore pornographic film in October 2004. The IFC also moved to expel the Delta Psi Delta fraternity, which had been on a year-and-a-half-long suspension for alcohol violations.
As a result of the tumultuous year, news outlets like The Los Angeles Times and CNN were all over Chico’s fraternities. And the university, at the command of President Zingg, cut off fraternity rushing during the fall 2005 semester and instituted 59 guidelines including a no hazing policy and GPA requirements. A couple defied the order and lost university recognition.
Stop or we’ll shoot
Chico police shot four people this year, two of them fatally. In every instance, the police involved were exonerated by a team of investigators led by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
The incident that drew the most attention was the June 3 shooting of a 24-year-old man named Lavell Proctor, who was known to his friends as “Rico Suave.” Proctor, a parole violator and a suspect in two previous shootings, was shot as he attempted to flee from officers who were in the preliminary stages of setting up a SWAT bust to capture him. Proctor rammed into an undercover patrol car in his attempt to escape, which prompted officer Carlos Jauregui to shoot him several times, including a fatal shot to the head. Local activists called the shooting racist, as Proctor was unarmed and black.
The other shootings were less controversial, although they did cause many in town to wonder if Chico was becoming a more violent place and whether police were properly using deadly force.
The first incident occurred Feb. 17, when police went to check out an alarm at Chico Electric, an electrical contracting firm located on West Eaton Road in North Chico. Hiding in one of the company’s heavy-duty work trucks, police discovered Phillip Dwayne Henman, who, upon finding himself surrounded by officers, “made a decision that he didn’t want to go to prison and took a knife that he had on himself—a rather large hunting knife—out of its sheath on his belt with the intent to commit suicide,” Ramsey reported. At that point, veteran officer Andre Carlisle made a “split-second, critical” decision to shoot Henman, who was struck in the back. He recovered and was charged with burglary and failure to pay child support.
On the heels of Proctor’s shooting came the June 13 shooting of Kenny Warren during a standoff between two cops and the armed Warren who had broken into the East Seventh Street home of his estranged wife. Warren, who is thought to have been on meth at the time, took bullets in the legs and chest and was tear gassed and Tazered before he finally surrendered.
The final shooting of the year happened Oct. 14 at the Valero gas station on The Esplanade, when Nathan Daniel Butts, a 20-year-old parolee from Susanville, was shot at least five times by officers trying to apprehend him on suspicion of illegal activities. Butts had allegedly been seen trying to sell a stolen handgun in the Chico Mall parking lot earlier in the day. He was riddled with bullets and died after he jumped behind the wheel of the Hyundai he’s been riding in, rammed a patrol car and tried to escape arrest.
Grand jury report a great read
This year’s Grand Jury Report, usually a snore of a read, raised a few eyebrows when it accused Butte County Board of Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi, Curt Josiassen and Bob Beeler of playing reindeer games with county departments to further personal or political ends. It called the three a “Triumvirate of Chutzpah” and accused them of “attacking the [former] director of [the Department of Development Services]” as part of “an aggressive clandestine plan to undermine the ability of county government to regulate development.” The triumvirate members, the report stated, hold the attitude that “the approval of a specific subdivision or project is viewed as a win, and the concerns for the impact of the precedent set in policy are considered a nuisance.”
Those attitudes, the jury concluded, led to a system of favoritism in granting plan approval as well as a “substantial hidden debt [which] has the potential to hinder the policy vision, economic development and quality of life in Butte County for decades to come.”
Nothing happened to the three alleged triumvirates. Beeler had already been voted out, and while Yamaguchi defended himself by saying, “I don’t agree with everything in the report but I do recognize the sacrifice [of the grand jury members],” Josiassen declined any comment at all.
The county’s response was a tepid wash of legalese that often disagreed with, but sometimes accepted the grand jury’s criticisms. Out of 10 recommendations dealing with DDS, the county stated that eight were either fully or partially implemented or are in the process of being implemented. A new head of DDS, Tim Snellings, former director of Yuba County’s Community Development Services, was installed a few weeks after the county response was issued.
The grand jury also dinged the Chico Unified School District for charging fees, which parents assumed to be required, for course materials, gym uniforms and other things the state Educational Code says should be part of the constitutionally guaranteed free education. Also, it was found that student-raised funds weren’t going into the right accounts.
Furthermore, the report said some CUSD trustees and administrators were “hostile” and “defensive” during the investigation.
The report also gave new ammo to demoted Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan, whom the grand jury determined managed money no differently from other school leaders and was maliciously targeted by the CUSD’s then-superintendent.
In the spring a man named Danny Kohrdt went before both the county and the city of Chico to sell his plans to develop thousands of acres in Butte County, preserve endangered species and wetlands and bring both governments millions of dollars in revenue. It wasn’t just a crazy man’s pipe dream. Kohrdt and his unnamed partners from back East, either already had or were in the process of buying approximately 25,000 acres of Butte County property.
All local governments had to do to realize Kohrdt’s commitment to the community was cooperate with his efforts to build at least 20,000 new homes here.
His Loafer Creek LLC, an “environmental, technology and real estate company,” became the second-largest landowner in the county behind only timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries.
In the last few years Kohrdt and his investors had quietly sank more than $30 million into Butte County real estate, buying the 4,000-acre Musty Buck Preserve between Chico and Cohasset and properties from just north of Bidwell Ranch to the Tehama County line.
As a result, Loafer Creek investors now enjoyed some serious leverage over how and where this county will grow. Their holdings include great tracts of land in the foothills, including many of the recharge areas that feed the huge aquifers that run beneath Butte County and supply most of the water used here.
The company’s idea is to offer this land as a “mitigation bank” that would sell mitigation “credits” to other developers (and be used by Kohrdt as well) who want to build on environmentally sensitive lands. Loafer Creek operates Dove Ridge, the largest mitigation bank in California. In its two-year history, Dove Ridge has made its owners a profit through the sale of a portion of its 466 development credits at $70,000 a pop to builders in Butte and eastern Tehama counties.
The company’s ambitious plan hinged on convincing the city of Chico and Butte County to buy into Loafer Creek’s mitigation banking scheme, something both governments rejected this year.
By Kohrdt’s reckoning, if the city and county facilitate the development of 5,000 acres of his property, each would get 1,500 mitigation credits in return, and that could mean as much as $45 million for each government. County schools would get a $63 million shot in the arm in property tax increases, and 10,000 more houses would be built in the city and another 10,000 in the county, relieving the current housing shortage. And there would still be enough available acreage to build another 38,184 houses in the future.
Soon after our cover story on Khordt and his plans ran, the News & Review offices were buzzed by a helicopter that hovered about 40 feet over the building for few seconds before flying away. Loafer Creek has a helicopter it stores in Redding (for insurance purposes) that is filled with high-tech gadgetry designed to map property.
Another downtown parking structure rears its head
In March we wrote a cover story about the coming parking structure slated to stand on the lot at Wall and Second streets, where the Saturday Farmer’s Market operates. We’d been down this road before, 10 years ago when the fight to build a structure on Salem and Third Streets erupted.
But this new project would dwarf that one, as it would become one of the largest free-standing buildings ever constructed in Chico—covering an entire city block and standing three to five stories tall.
When our story came out, awareness of the coming multi-story garage was not widespread, even though the City Council had passed an ordinance in the summer of 2004 to increase the double the parking meter rates to help fund the parking structure, an estimated $15 million to $18 million. But the rate increase wasn’t set to go into effect for one year, which, calculated or not, effectively diverted the public’s attention from the plans to build the garage.
In February, a company had begun drilling holes to test soil stability under the Second and Wall streets site. The first real public meeting on the issue didn’t take place until April, and the structure supporters—Downtown Chico Business Association officials and some downtown business owners—and opponents squared off and argued the merits and necessity of the structure. Farmer’s Market patrons expressed fear of losing their popular venue. Some said to build it by the municipal building between Fourth and Fifth streets.
The council voted to extend the hours of meter enforcement into the evenings and on Saturdays. Opposition organized in the form of Friends of the Downtown and a petition was launched and qualified in July with more than 4,000 signatures of city voters calls for the council to either rescind the extension vote or put the matter on the ballot. The council rescinded the extension, crippling the parking structure’s fund raising scheme.
The DCBA’s worst fears had come to pass—an increase in parking meter rates but a setback in the time line to build the structure because the second part of the funding plan had failed. The results of surveys of downtown merchants on the need for more downtown parking were less than overwhelmingly pro-parking structure. Opponents, including some downtown business owners, say the drive for the structure is in reality triggered by certain developers who want to construct combination business-office/residential buildings downtown and need adequate parking in place before the go before the planning department to get permits.
At this point the future of the parking is fairly uncertain.
They really did close schools
Despite the scepter of $9 million in cuts over four years facing the Chico Unified School District, it still came as a shock to many when trustees voted 3-2 in March to close two schools to balance the budget.
Tears flowed as Jay Partridge and Nord elementaries were shuttered in the wake of an enrollment decline that began in the late 1990s. The board had appointed a Campus Consolidation Committee, which recommended closing all three “small schools"—Nord, Cohasset and Forest Ranch—along with either Jay Partridge or Rosedale. District official calculated that closing a small school would save $164,000; an in-town campus $444,000.
Students were redistributed to other schools, and alternative programs moved into the former Jay Partridge campus. That made way for the charter Chico Country Day School to move from a strip mall to the old Fair View High School site.
Meanwhile, the tiny community of Nord rallied and, armed with donations from farmers and other supporters, started a charter school with lightning speed, getting state approval in May. With an enrollment of 71, the school now draws even more students than the 54 it did before—so the CUSD didn’t save as much money as it thought it would.
Among several other cuts, the board voted to eliminate year-round education (YRE), effective with the 2006-07 school year, angering parents who tout the schedule, with its frequent breaks, as best for student learning.
The enrollment decline, coupled with budget problems, also prompted the district to rethink the bond-funded third comprehensive high school for which it bought land.
All about Enloe
It was a busy year for Enloe Medical Center, as the nonprofit struggled against bad press, neighborhood protests and union unrest. Also, in August, the hospital’s chief executive officer announced he was stepping down, and his right-hand man would take his place.
Enloe’s plans to expand the historic hospital on The Esplanade were moving along with plenty of public meetings but little regard for suggestions made by residents in the Avenues neighborhood surrounding the hospital. Finally, Chico developer Tom DiGiovanni stepped in, urging Enloe to hold a “charrette” and incorporate community input in a meaningful way. The result was a much more visually pleasing design and closer attention to traffic problems, but it wasn’t enough to calm the project’s staunchest opponents, who still want the hospital to grow elsewhere—no matter how much it costs.
Members of the nurses’ union, having achieved pay increases, turned their dissatisfaction to working conditions and patient care, calling on the hospital to increase ratios and take other action supported by the California Nurses Association.
Meanwhile, the heavy-hitting union SEIU United Healthcare Workers West hammered on Enloe via press conferences and protests to improve wages and benefits and lean on its contractor, Compass, to do the same for housekeepers, food service workers and other lower-paid employees. On Sept. 2, most Compass workers took part in a planned strike.
As if that weren’t enough, a group calling itself the Infection Connection formed in 2005, blaming Enloe for infections that they say led to severe illness and even death.
No wonder Phil Wolfe, Enloe’s CEO for 10 years, chose 2005 to announce he is stepping down from his job paying more than half a million dollars a year. He was gone by year’s end. The move, he said, would make the organization “more efficient.”
Taking over is Dan Neumeister, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Humboldt Dump finally cleaned—almost
After years of debate, blame, proposals and denials, cleanup of the land collectively known as the old Humboldt Burn Dump was finally begun in the summer of 2005. The land was contaminated during the first half of the 20th century after years of serving as the local city and county dump and supporting a number of private dump operations as well. The state learned of the contaminated soil in the 1970s—alerted by folks who lived in the area—and ordered the city to clean it up.
A plan was finally put into place a couple of years ago commenced this year. The contaminated soil was collected into a containment cell on a 10-acre parcel west of Bruce Road. The city purchased the land from John Scott for about $200,000. Toxic soil from land east of Bruce Road was scooped up and trucked across the road to the same cell for containment.
As the cleanup unfolded, the 1,324-unit Oak Valley housing development was approved, but with some significant alterations. Mainly, the council, led (in some cases kicking and screaming) by Councilman Andy Holcombe, removed the houses slated for construction up into the foothills. That action led developer Tom Fogarty to hint in the lobby of the council chambers that he just might file a law suit for unfair takings. Sure enough on Dec. 19, Fogarty filed an eminent domain suit in Butte County Superior Court naming the city and the four councilmembers who voted to rearrange the houses on his subdivision plan. The court has set a date of June 16, 2006 to hear the case. In the meantime, Fogarty is looking to sell the property.
Another property owner, Ginger Drake, filed suit against her late-husband Dan’s longtime business partner Ed Simmons. Drake was threatened with a hefty fine from the state because she had failed to make efforts to clean her property.
A side story is that of one man’s effort to preserve the old Humboldt Wagon Trail, which runs just to the south of the Oak Valley project. Fran Farley has made considerable effort to get his voice heard at various city meetings, both planning commission and City Council. He says the road was not properly considered as a historic landmark under the environmental impact report for Oak Valley, the establishment of which will obliterate the road.
But now comes hints that the company that did the clean-up, Performance Excavators Inc., may be involved in some legal maneuverings with the city. The city says the company didn’t use the proper material to cap the mound of contaminated soil. At the last City Council meeting, a letter from the company’s attorneys asking for all documents related to the project was mistakenly made public. The letter, from attorney John E. Sharp of San Rafael, asks the city to provide with all documentation it has related to the clean-up and that the matter be placed on the next council meeting agenda, with is set for Jan. 3.
County has lotsa water, no money
Water was in the news a lot this year, as county leaders have begun to seriously grapple with the reality that, as Quincy environmental attorney Mike Jackson told the Butte County Board of Supervisors this year, “Water is the new oil and Butte County is Saudi Arabia.”
Unlike the Kingdom of Saud, however, Butte County has yet to figure out how to make money from the abundant water supply it possesses, both in the form of surface water in Lake Oroville and in the vast underground aquifer known as the Lower Tuscan.
In the case of Lake Oroville, the county has engaged itself in an epic legal battle against the state Department of Water Resources, which operates Oroville Dam. The dam’s license is up for renewal next year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the county has been spending loads of time and money trying to build a case that the state has been ripping off the county to subsidize the wealth of Southern California for the last 50 years.
County negotiators were dealt a joker when DWR and the major water contractors it serves announced it was cutting a deal with the city of Oroville which would supposedly send some $50-100 million into revamping the town’s riverfront. Referred to as the Special Benefit Fund, the deal was hailed as a major achievement by Oroville negotiators and a cynical ploy by some in the county, who accused DWR and the water contractors of playing the city and county against each other.
The water fight will heat up again this year, as Butte County has filed an “intervention” with FERC and is about to release a study that will attempt to document the economic cost the county incurs by hosting Oroville Dam, the keystone of the State Water Project.
Some local environmentalists are complaining lately that, while the county has sunk millions into fighting DWR, they have been late to the game when it comes to dealing with groundwater. County leaders contend that the issues surrounding groundwater are more complex and that, unlike the dam, the aquifer that provides all of Chico’s water and sustains much of the county’s agriculture is simply harder to regulate. The Tuscan underlies not just Butte but Tehama, Colusa and Glenn counties and thus requires a regional approach to management that has so far been elusive.
While environmentalists worry that overpumping will draw the water table down to the point it can no longer sustain habitat-providing plants, farmers worry that badly drawn legislation will curtail their water rights. There is also the issue of water transfers, in which farmers with access to both surface and ground water can exchange one for the other and sell water rather than growing crops, a proposition which could have calamitous effects on rural, ag-based economies.
What’s worse, some water-watchers fear there is a plot in the works by private developers to buy land in so-called “recharge areas,” where water percolates underground. Such a move, it is said, could potentially give control over the aquifer to a tiny, wealthy cabal of unaccountable landowners. The most feared of such landowners is Danny Kohrdt, owner of Dove Ridge Mitigation Bank, which in the last few years has become the county’s second-largest private landowner, buying thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive land, much of it in recharge areas, and much of it reportedly for cash.
Boys of summer return
After a two-year absence, baseball returned to town in 2005 in the form of The Chico Outlaws.
The Outlaws joined the newly formed Golden Baseball League, which had eight teams across the state and beyond, including the Arizona towns of Surprise and Yuma. It was exciting for locals, who had been without baseball for three years, while families were again able to make a night of it at the ballpark. But things were getting exciting before the team even stepped foot on the grass of Nettleton Stadium.
General Manager Bob Linscheid brought in former major leaguer Mark Parent, who grew up in nearby Cottonwood before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1979, to be The Outlaws’ skipper, and the club’s first game was May 27 against the Fullerton Flyers.
The team, indeed, put asses in the bleachers as it went on to a 49-41 record before losing to Rick Henderson and the San Diego Surf Dawgs 2-1 in the semi-finals of the GBL postseason tournament.
The Outlaws operated under the “single entity” model, meaning every club was owned by the league, which allowed money to be distributed to the weaker markets. The team agreed to a sponsorship arrangement with Safeway, which, Linscheid said, put up the largest amount of money in independent baseball history.
It paid off for the community as well, at least according to an economic-impact study commissioned by the Golden Baseball League and released in November. The overwhelmingly positive study by the Center for Economic Development (CED) at CSU, Chico found that the Outlaws were responsible for $4.6 million in benefits to the Chico economy during the team’s first season in summer 2005. Linscheid said the GBL undertook the study partly due to his urging.
“We wanted to show our city and our community what kind of economic impact it had.”