What’s the plan?

This week we report on a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the Butte Environmental Council that named Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton as one of the defendants. (See “BEC wins critical habitat settlement,” Newslines, page 12). I was delighted to see that Norton was the “loser” in this settlement, which ruled that the Department of Interior and Norton pay $57,378 in legal fees to BEC’s attorneys, Neil Levine of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Lawrence D. Sanders of Riverlaw. Norton is gung-ho for offshore oil drilling in California and sinking oil taps into the permafrost of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge so Americans can continue to roll down (and occasionally off) the nation’s highways in their SUVs. Of course, I doubt that money is coming right out of Norton’s purse. (The cynic, of course, will say at this point, “It comes from our taxpayer money, man! Ever hear of that?") Anyway, Barbara Vlamis, executive director for BEC, suggested that had the Chico City Council established a Habitat and Resources Conservation Plan, like the one studied, discussed and ultimately rejected in 1997, the FWS habitat designation would now be a moot point.

That year the council voted to kill the HRCP, which was to work in conjunction with the city’s General Plan by designating certain areas of Chico for development and other areas for habitat reserve. The city would have purchased about 900 acres from landowners for the reserves, using impact fees, grants, special districts and the dedication of lands. In return, a vast majority of the hoops developers must jump through to get their federal (Army Corps of Engineers and FWS), state and local permits would have been removed, as all permits would have been issued in a single step. But the plan was scrapped when local developers Dan Drake, Pete Giampaoli and Greg Webb announced they were not signing on and would continue to conduct business as usual. Councilmembers Rick Keene, Steve Bertagna and the late Bill Johnston said they could not support the plan because it was too costly, too early in the game and not supported by those most affected, “the large landowners.” Keene said at the time there was nothing to prevent “new endangered species [from] popping up and causing problems,” nor was there any guarantee that environmental groups would not stop trying to halt proposed subdivisions if the plan were enacted. The three councilmembers joined then-Councilmember Mary Andrews in voting to kill the plan. And look what’s happened since.

Jeff Dow, owner of Sierra Stationers on Broadway in downtown Chico, called this week to voice his displeasure with the release of the Chico Chamber of Commerce’s latest Business Directory Supplement. Dow said he was a bit concerned (actually he was really pissed off) about how the chamber defines "local businesses." The press release accompanying the updated directory contains this explanation: "Since the original printing of the directory in early February, more than 75 local businesses have joined forces with the Chamber. Organizations ranging from auto dealers to chiropractors have acknowledged the professional potential tucked within a Chamber partnership. The supplement categorizes all new members by their specific industry." Dow’s beef is with the category "Office Equipment & Supplies," which includes new members The Inkwell out of Willows and the even farther-flung Corporate Express of Sacramento. This latest update also includes Sacramento’s Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. "What does it do with the $100,000 it gets from the city every year?" Dow asked in reference to the funding the chamber receives to promote local business. Good question. We’re thinking maybe Chico businesses should join the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and squeeze a little promotion out of our state capital.