What were they thinking?

Vandalism and murderous dogs forced Danny Mitchell to take his weed-eating goats out of Upper Bidwell Park.

Vandalism and murderous dogs forced Danny Mitchell to take his weed-eating goats out of Upper Bidwell Park.

photo by Tom Angel

We can’t let 2001 slip into history without noting some of the more boneheaded or downright wrong things people did last year.

No Waldorf, please
So much for new ideas in the public schools. In early 2001, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees denied a group of parents who were seeking to start a charter school based on the Waldorf method of teaching widely, and successfully, used elsewhere. A Bay Area group that considers the method’s founder to have religious beliefs not appropriate in public schools came to town and told this to the board. Plus, they said, they’d sue. That was enough for trustees, who voted to toss the Waldorf folks. The proponents, dejected at first, moved on and quickly won approval across the way at the more-receptive Butte County Office of Education.

Black is black
It was a carefully worded press conference, to be sure. In April, Chico police announced that they’d caught the two men suspecting of robbing the Rio Lindo Motel on The Esplanade and shooting and killing manager Louis O’Shea in the process. It was good police work, especially considering they’d spent the previous year looking for men who are black, not white like those arrested. We don’t want to ding the cops too hard; they were doing their best. It was the witnesses—in shock, likely—who tabbed the killers as black. One African-American activist quickly labeled the investigation tainted by bias and racism.

Going Face down
The old owner may be long gone, but we’re still wondering what people at the former Pizza Face in downtown Chico were thinking when they repeatedly left a door in the floor open. At least three people reported that they fell into it, toward the basement, sustaining serious injuries and suing. That left observers to wonder: How hard is it to close a door?

Royal dethroned
If everyone loves a clown, an even greater truism is that everyone loves a good sportscaster. So what was going on behind the scenes when the owners of KHSL-TV decided to oust the folksy, popular Royal Courtain from its news lineup after his more than 20 years on the job? Station leaders spoke cryptically of “issues” with his work, while a shell-shocked Courtain pled ignorance and nursed hurt feelings before quickly landing another job at rival Redding-based KRCR. Maybe KSHL brass—they’re in Connecticut, for goodness’ sake—didn’t realize what big news it would be to send Courtain packing.

Speaking of the trees…
Take a close-knit mountain community, a school full of children that are used to playing in a playground surrounded by trees, and bring on the loggers: It spelled a recipe for disaster for the Chico Unified School District in August. Following the advice of a logger, who said trees at Cohasset Elementary School were diseased and dangerous, district staff gave the OK to log out dozens of the stately pines, firs and cedars. Bring on the town’s residents, who converged on the district, demanding to know why the trees were going and who was getting the thousands of dollars the 97,500 board-feet of timber would yield. As the cleanup ensued, students reported allergic reactions to the straw placed to stave off erosion. CUSD officials gamely tried to play the PR game, but the damage was done.

Chico city of flags
In this case we asked, “What were they thinking?” because at the time it seemed like nothing more than an exercise in rampant jingoism. But, as it turned out, the City Council’s vote last spring to line The Esplanade with American flags was prophetic. Initially the vote called for Old Glory to be flown, as the kids say, 24-7-365. But that raised some concerns about overkill. Ed Regan, chairman of group called Chico City of Flags Committee, wrote a letter to Councilmember Steve Bertagna that said, “This project was meant to unify the community, not to polarize it or use it as a lightning rod of other agendas.”

So it was agreed that the flags would only fly on national holidays. Then came Sept. 11, and flags were unfurled for a month of mourning. And you can bet they’ll be flying next year on our newest holiday, Patriot Day, christened by President Bush to be observed every Sept. 11.

Slaughter in the park
When Danny Mitchell and his goats arrived in Bidwell Park in 1998 to help clear the invasive non-native plants that were taking over the native vegetation, it seemed too good to be true. The goats were a pleasant attraction and a welcome alternative to spraying gallons of herbicides to kill the unwanted flora. Turns out it was too good to be true.

On Sept. 6, six of the goats were killed when an unleashed dog apparently broke through the protective electric fence and attacked. That carnage, combined with other mindless acts of vandalism, caused Mitchell to pack up his goats and go home. Two days before the attack, Mitchell caught two grown men in the pen chasing the goats. One day later, someone stole a $600 piece of his electric-fence system.

“The disgusting part is it took us several years to find someone who could do the job on a long-term sustainability," said Chico Park Director Dennis Beardsley said. "This is extremely discouraging."