We see newsmaking in their future
The CN&R’s annual Who to Watch list
With our country at a crossroads and a new navigator taking charge, it’s pretty clear that 2009 will be the Year of Obama. But how about locally? Who closer to home will make an impact on our lives?
We at the CN&R came up with 10 such individuals. Ranging from government officials and community organizers to artists and educators, our annual Who to Watch list features people we expect to make headlines this year (good ones, we hope). This isn’t a guarantee of publicity—we’re not into self-fulfilling prophesies. Just a solid hunch.
Sitting in the Naked Lounge, Ann Schwab joked about being called the ‘sustainability mayor.” After listening to her goals for 2009, the title seems fitting.
In her new role, the second-term city councilwoman hopes to further Chico’s mission of sustainability through the general plan and dealing with the current state of the economy. Chico will likely experience more job losses, business closures and downturns in the housing market, and Schwab hopes the city can help by attracting more businesses and offering incentives for entrepreneurs to set up shop here.
‘We’re working to speed up the permit process [for new businesses],” she said. ‘And we’re establishing the infrastructure for businesses to succeed here in Chico.” She referred to the recently finished Eighth Street remodel and Manzanita Corridor projects. Those things will hopefully make Chico a more attractive location, particularly for companies that can help make Chico more self-sustaining by, for example, creating the supplies needed by existing businesses.
As for the general plan, the council recently chose its list of preferred growth areas and this year will be looking at policies for growth. Schwab said the Sustainability Task Force will certainly play a role in the update process.
‘It may actually be to our advantage that we’re having a slowdown,” she said regarding the general-plan update. ‘When you’re in the middle of a building frenzy, you’re always looking for the next place to build. But when things are slow, you’re able to look at the best ideas and the best practices and get the best product.”
She envisions Chico with many different community centers that will lessen the necessity for people to drive across town, while offering jobs and opportunities for local businesses to grow.
Schwab also hopes the city can take a lead in the way Chico State and Butte College have in regard to sustainability. The wastewater treatment center’s new solar panels, which are saving the city 50 percent in electricity costs for the center, are a prime example.
‘People can say, ‘If the city can do it, I can do it.’ And we can offer them the resources to show them how,” said the sustainability mayor. ‘The general plan is the perfect time to take these things into consideration.”
—Meredith J. Cooper
Man with three hats
Residents of Butte County’s 4th District who want to visit their new supervisor, Steve Lambert, will have to travel down a gravel road. At least the scenery will be pretty. County workers have just finished setting up an office trailer on Lambert’s cattle ranch, which is located among rolling hills west of the Thermalito Forebay on Nelson Avenue.
The location makes sense for this energetic 42-year-old. He can do his county work while also overseeing the ranch, where he produces breeding bulls and cows. And both County Center and the other business he owns—a combination feed store and plant nursery—are located in nearby Oroville.
Not only that, the hilltop home he shares with his wife, Cindy, and their three children (Meghan, 13; Clayton, 17; and Nathan, 19) is just down the road.
A 1988 Chico State University grad, he married that same year and went into business, eventually owning four feed stores (he’s since sold all but the original Oroville shop). In the late 1990s he served two terms as Paradise mayor before moving to his current home.
Lambert’s predecessor, Curt Josiassen, also had an office in the country, on his Richvale rice farm. But that’s about all the men have in common. Where Josiassen is reserved and even somber at times, Lambert is outgoing, upbeat and talkative. Both men are politically conservative, but Lambert sees himself as less ideological, more pragmatic.
He wants county government to take a more proactive role—in attracting business, for instance. He believes the supervisors erred in not approving general-plan zoning for a research park in south Chico, for instance. “What’s the down side for the county if 300 acres are rezoned?” he asked.
He realizes his first couple of years in office will be all about budget problems caused by state government. “The county is like the waiter in a restaurant where the state is the bad chef,” he said. “Unfortunately, people aren’t holding the Legislature accountable.”
Most of all, he said, he wants to represent his district well: “I’ll be the voice of agriculture, its conduit to all that is going on in government.”
For most candidates, particularly first-timers, election night is a stressful affair spent by the phone and computer waiting for the latest tallies. For Liz Griffin, it was a time for slumber—not from overconfidence, mind you, but fatigue. She’d spent the day as a poll worker in Durham, and with results not expected till late, she decided “to get a good night’s sleep; whatever will be, will be.”
She woke up a member of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees.
“It was really exciting,” she reflected, nearly two months later. “But I think the most exciting thing was the first meeting [Dec. 17], when you’re actually there, sitting in front of the people, realizing, ‘Wow, this is a huge responsibility.’
“The people who came to the meeting all felt very strongly about the schools and their children. What a big responsibility to take into account their feelings and concerns, then make a decision that’s really sound both on the basis of budget and how you’re affecting people’s lives.”
That’s a lot to balance, but Griffin feels she’s up to the task. So do Chico teachers, whose union endorsed her, and the other 17,000-plus Chicoans who voted for her.
Griffin brings a distinct background to the board. She once taught at Chico High, but when budget woes hit, she got a pink slip under the last-hired/first-fired clause. She considered practicing law but instead kept her focus on education, now working as school-readiness coordinator for First 5 of Butte County. She has two children, both graduates of Chico High, so she has the perspective of a parent without a direct interest in any particular campus.
Griffin set aside a room in her house “for all the notes and binders and information I’ve been gathering"—a stack that grew after she attended a statewide conference with Superintendent Kelly Staley. Griffin knows she faces a learning curve, yet she has a sense of how she’ll fit on the board, where she already holds the position of clerk.
“This last meeting, we had a talk about fencing,” she said, “and people were going off in all different directions—and they were good directions to explore. But it got to a point where we needed to bring it back and focus on what’s the practical thing we need to do now? … I’m used to implementing things in programs, so maybe that’s my role: a consolidator and a pragmatist.”
In the short time it takes Jessica Rios to finish a cappuccino, she’ll wave hello to nearly a dozen friends and acquaintances, one after another, who enter a coffee shop in downtown Chico.
The scene is fitting considering she places a strong emphasis, both personally and professionally, on the importance of connections with people. But Rios, a pretty 33-year-old brunette, is less concerned about networking than she is about fostering intimacy with those around her.
“The more aware of our impact on the relationships in our lives, the happier we are,” she said, seated on a big vinyl couch at the Naked Lounge.
That philosophy makes her a perfect partner in a new movement to buoy the economic vitality and rich character of the community by promoting locally owned, independent businesses.
Rios is founder of Think Local, Chico!—a nonprofit that started to take shape after she attended the conference of a national organization called BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) back in 2006. TLC has grown slowly in the years since and is picking up momentum.
A Web site (www.thinklocalchico.org) is up and running, the board of directors is expanding, and, after quite a bit of work, BALLE has accepted TLC as a member. Joining the San Francisco-based umbrella organization will provide the group with advice and connections with the other 60-some networks across the country.
In addition to serving local businesses, TLC is open to other community organizations, service providers and individuals. In fact, Rios, who operated a sustainable wedding-planning service for several years, is no longer a business owner.
Still, she is firmly committed to the cause. In 10 years, Rios says she envisions a community with tight relationships between businesses who support each other through the exchange of goods and services. Right now, the organization takes a lot of work, yet she enjoys doing something she believes in.
“It’s fun to work on things that are hopeful, visionary and bring people together,” she said.
Council rookie (sort of)
Though Jim Walker is the only new person on the Chico City Council this year, he’s hardly new to government, having served on the city’s Bidwell Park and Playground Commission and as a director of the Chico Area Recreation and Park District.
Naturally, he will bring this expertise in recreation, along with his love of Bidwell Park, to the council. But don’t expect him to be ideological about park issues. As a park commissioner, for example, he supported construction of two disc-golf courses in Upper Park.
This tendency to approach each issue on its own terms may stem from his career choice. Walker is a physician’s assistant (he works with a local gastroenterologist), and as such he has to treat each medical problem as a unique situation. He’s likely to be a voice of pragmatism and compromise on the council.
Walker’s wife, Patty, is also in health care. She’s a nurse specializing in infusion therapy at the Enloe Cancer Center. They have two sons: Nick, 22, a student at Portland State University, and Tom, 18, who is currently in Brazil on a Rotary exchange program. The Walkers live in an attractive, cozy house on Hooker Oak Avenue.
Short-term, Walker knows, the biggest problem the city faces is the budget. He’s been meeting every Monday with City Manager Dave Burkland to get up to speed on financial matters, as well as visiting various parts of the city’s organization, from the corporate yard and the sewer plant to the Police Department and fire stations.
One evening, he recounted, he left his office at City Hall about 7 p.m. and found the fire chief, two fire captains, the city manager and several other top officials all there, still working. “I was just really impressed by that,” he said.
Ultimately, the ongoing challenge of city government is to preserve Chico’s quality of life. “We know what we don’t want,” he said. “We don’t want to be like Fresno or San Jose.” To see what we do want, he continued, we should look at cities such as Eugene, Ore., and San Luis Obispo that have “maintained their old-time feel.”
You call this retired?
About this time last year, Sheryl McWaters retired from Highway Patrol and school district jobs, and started thinking about the homeless. A resident of Chico since 1999, she decided in February she was going to put her thoughts into action and became a volunteer, working two hours a week at the Torres Community Shelter.
A few months later, around when Corla Bertrand left the post of shelter executive director, an opening came up on the board of directors. McWaters jumped in head first and never stopped swimming.
“I guess I was on the fast track,” she said with a chuckle. In October, she became the board’s chairwoman, and now she’s also holding down the position of executive director, temporarily and without pay.
“I’ve volunteered for various organizations,” she said. “But I’m new to nonprofits and the issue of homelessness. My brain is getting a good workout!”
That’s for sure. Just a month before she took over as chairwoman, the shelter learned it had lost a two-year, $200,000 grant it had been awarded in previous years.
“The shelter had sort of relied on that funding,” McWaters said. “We were scrambling, to say the least.”
The community stepped up, and just before Christmas, on Dec. 23, the North Valley Community Foundation met its fundraising goal of $75,000, which was needed to secure an anonymous donation of $50,000.
“This community has been unbelievable,” McWaters gushed. “But there’s a need to create a sustainable local donor base.” That’s why she’s pushing the People Helping People fundraiser, which aims to get community members to pledge a monthly donation.
If 2,500 households give just $10 a month, that’s enough to keep the shelter up and running. The shelter will reapply for the $200,000 federal grant, but she’s not going to hang her hat on it, given the state of the economy. “We look forward to being fiscally solvent,” she said.
If all goes well, they’ll begin the search for a new executive director in the spring. As much as she enjoys the work she’s doing now, McWaters said, she’s very much retired.
—Meredith J. Cooper
Multicultural and multimedia
Chico State art professor Masami Toku is recognized worldwide as an expert on manga (Japanese comic book art). There’s more to her than her expertise; the dynamic, tireless 50-year-old always seems to come up with new and imaginative ways to enlighten Chicoans about Japanese art and culture.
Besides teaching a full load of classes, Toku puts together educational art exhibits such as her 2005 “Shojo Manga Power!” show—a celebration of Japanese pop culture that debuted in Chico before traveling across the U.S. and to Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Toku’s “The Way of Asia” series at Chico State, in late 2008, included an extensive manga exhibit of four-panel cartoons by American and Japanese schoolchildren, and the well-attended two-part event “Far East Fusion!” consisting of a gorgeous traditional tea ceremony and kimono auction, as well as a sushi-as-art contest focusing on the seasons of the year.
The only Japanese art educator at a U.S. university who is not a visiting scholar, Toku will continue to receive an external grant from the Japan Foundation to support her groundbreaking work though 2009.
Reached recently by phone on Amami-Oshima—her culturally unique “home island,” about 250 miles south of Japan’s southern mainland, where she was visiting her mother and brother over the holidays—Toku talked about her plans for 2009.
She is excited about her “Amamina” project, a two-week event on Amami-Oshima in July featuring the art of both her 2005 Shojo Manga exhibit and 2008 four-panel manga exhibit (which includes the work of Chico schoolkids), and a performance by popular Japanese drum troupe Wadaiko Yamato.
The Amamina project will coincide with the total solar eclipse that will occur on July 22, observable in the northern part of Amami-Oshima. Toku hopes to secure grant money to bring Chico State students with her.
She has two books in the works: an academic volume titled The World of Shojo Manga, due out in 2010, and a book about her home island. Also look for a second annual sushi-as-art contest—with a Chico theme this time.
“I work hard,” said Toku, “because people are looking at Japanese culture through me. I want to give people a chance to see Japanese culture—and multiculture. My mom and grandma were born at a bad time to be able to show what Japanese women can do.”
—Christine G.K. LaPado
Captain … make that Mister
During his two decades as a police officer, John Rucker saw sides of city life that most residents never see. That’s the street-level view, which he kept even when he moved into one of the two captain’s offices at Humboldt Avenue HQ.
Now he’s got a different vantage. There’s the actual view, of course, through fourth-floor windows at City Hall that overlook two municipal buildings, the downtown plaza and Main Street in between. In a broader sense, there’s the perspective that comes from serving as assistant city manager, second in command for the whole Chico administration.
“It’s a big challenge—there’s a lot going on,” said Rucker, seated in his new office, boxes yet to be unpacked. “I once heard running a police department described as changing the tire on a car that’s doing 70 miles an hour down the freeway, and I think city management is very similar. There are so many moving parts, so many projects going on at the same time.”
For starters, City Manager Dave Burkland assigned Rucker to serve as liaison to the police and fire departments, the animal shelter and the airport; update the city’s security plan and communications; bone up on wastewater and freshwater handling, and work on resolving downtown issues.
He comes in during a key time for the city, which faces immediate budget concerns while simultaneously planning for the future with an updated general plan.
“There’s a lack of funds for pretty much everything—everything’s got to be meted out as the city can afford it,” Rucker said. “Being fiscally responsible for the community is the biggest part of the job; you can’t just be bogged down in individual numbers for individual departments.”
Such as, say, the police department.
“It’s very important to me that the city family understand I’m here for the whole city,” he said. “I’m not the Police Department’s advocate at City Hall. I’m all their advocate. I worked hard for my MPA [master’s in public administration], and it will come in handy here.
“My decision was to draw a clean line between the two professions,” Rucker added, “so I’m retired from policing after 20 years. In some ways, I’ll miss that terribly, because it’s such a tremendous occupation. But this is as well. I don’t regret a darn thing.”
If you were to chart out Pat Hull’s career trajectory since coming to Chico from Connecticut in August 2007, you’d see he’s due for another high point on his ascending graph.
Within a month of arriving to pursue a master’s in communication studies (and to teach in that department), the singer-songwriter recorded his Live in Chico CD at Has Beans. He spent the next several months becoming one of the more regular players at nearly every café and club in town, and in May 2008 he received a Chico Area Music Award for best male vocalist. Following the CAMMIES breakthrough, he released his full-length debut album, Yes, and hit the road in support.
The next development—the one that will be playing out in 2009—is the addition of a full band, both for live performances and to record the recently completed CD Forever’s Night.
The new crew is mostly acoustic and extremely lively. The ensemble features stand-up bassist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Robertson, drummer Bob Reynolds, back-up singer/percussionist Cody Caudill, violinist/back-up vocalist Dan Masquelier and keyboardist/ vocalist Erin Lizardo (another singer-songwriter who’s received CAMMIES acclaim as best vocalist).
“When I started practicing with other friends, it was impulsive and non-directional,” Hull said about the genesis of his new musical setup. “It just started excelling and I didn’t feel like controlling it. It is a delight to play with these folks.”
Hull and band will debut the new CD (which was recorded locally by Candy Apple vocalist/organist Scott Barwick at his Origami Lounge studio) at a release party Feb. 7 at the Chico Women’s Club. Mark your calendar.
Following family tradition
Thil Chan-Wilcox should be a natural on the Oroville City Council.
After 16 years on the Planning Commission, she has a firm grasp on what voters envision for the city and the know-how to make it work. Add 20 years as a local business owner, almost that many working for the county, 10 years in credit management, and service on the county’s employee association, and it’s clear that Wilcox is familiar with myriad aspects of the city she serves.
But there’s more.
Oroville’s greatest asset is town history, and if anyone knows Oroville history, it’s Wilcox. Her family arrived in 1867; her great-great-grandfather, Fong Lee, was a Chinese merchant and tax collector, which led to a role in community leadership.
The generations that followed continued those traditions. Vegetables, herbs, a restaurant and assay business grew the family financially, while family traditions linked the new generations with the cultural richness of their homeland and impressed the importance of family and community.
Her father, Fee Chan, served as the first planning director in Butte County until 1968. Growing up, she observed firsthand the importance of careful planning and purposeful decision-making for a community to prosper.
Chan-Wilcox admits that when she was young, she had no conception of how important her history as a Chinese-American was—not only to herself, but also to her community. Now, she realizes how those same traditions held dear by her family have contributed to the city and county, and she is determined to carry on with the same diligence as those who came before.
Wilcox prides herself on taking her council seat with no preconceived agendas, recognizing that each decision must be made based on the material and information presented at the time.
“During the campaign,” she said, “people were constantly asking me what was my agenda. I had none. In order to make good decisions, we have to treat every event like it’s brand new. [It’s] good relationships with staff and the ability to agree to disagree that will make the best decisions for Oroville.”