Unconstructive criticism

Councilman’s fault-finding letter fails to offer a better way

President Obama and the Chico City Council have something in common: They’re both being blamed for a phenomenon over which they have only limited control—the health of the economy.

In Obama’s case, he’s being held responsible for the sluggishness of the recovery from the worst recession in modern history. The economy may be improving, but not as fast as we’d like, and Obama is getting the rap, especially from Mitt Romney. Why people think Romney would do a better job is beyond me.

For an example of the kind of criticism the City Council is getting in this election year, check out Councilman Bob Evans’ letter on page 6 of this issue. It’s a polite but pointed missive—Evans is a nice guy, but he’s also up for re-election—attacking an editorial in last week’s issue of the CN&R that urged readers to look at the city’s newly issued Sustainability Indicators Report to see the positive impacts the city’s focus on sustainability is having.

The essence of Evans’ message is that, in this time of daunting financial challenges to the city, the council—meaning its liberal majority, not him and fellow conservative Mark Sorensen—is doing too little in the way of economic development. The implication is that the majority’s interest in creating a sustainable community is somehow a drag on or distraction from the need to “help our economy grow.”

Evans charges specifically that the council has failed to discuss economic development at its regular meetings, and that five of 12 meetings of the Economic Development Committee have been cancelled because, according to an unnamed source, “they had nothing to discuss.”

Well, OK. But does that mean nothing is being done? Or is Evans just making political hay?

City Manager Dave Burkland, in his June 19 budget memo to the council, paints a different picture. Burkland writes that the local economy “continues to show signs of meaningful business recovery and growth,” and that “significant job creation is also occurring through new businesses in Chico,” as well as expansion of existing businesses.

Meanwhile, the city is implementing its Economic Development Action Plan, which has as its highest priorities expanding high-speed Internet, bringing in commercial air service and developing infrastructure financing. The city is also reaching out to the business community, and, according to Burkland’s memo, “relationships with the business community and our economic-development partners are as close and collaborative as they have ever been.”

The city’s “focus on creating the right climate for business is paying off as employers and property owners are getting the attention and guidance they need from City staff,” Burkland writes, “and regulatory processes are being reviewed for improvements to make sure they are predictable and efficient.”

Sounds like the city is doing a pretty good job, no?

Like Romney, Evans doesn’t say what he’d do differently. If he’s got a plan to “foster new revenue sources to fund the services our residents expect,” as he writes in his letter, he doesn’t say what it is. Where’s the beef, Bob?

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.