Who to Watch in 2004

The people and events that will have an impact in the coming year

Photo By Tom Angel

For many years now the News & Review has started off the New Year with an effort to discern who the year’s likely newsmakers will be. To some extent we’re taking shots in the dark—you can refer to our sidebar reprise of last year’s nominees, “Who we watched in 2003,” to see how accurate our predictions were then—but this time around we’re more confident than usual about our choices.

That’s because some of them are obvious and unquestionable. The two new presidents at the area’s colleges, for example, will be major newsmakers this year, not only because they’re new but also because they’ll confront daunting budgetary challenges even as they’re learning their new jobs.

As for the rest, we’ve diverged from precedent somewhat this year by nominating a national corporation, Wal-Mart, and the Chico City Council election as likely newsmakers this year. Wal-Mart’s effort to build a new “supercenter” here is bound to be controversial, and the council election, in which four seats will be up for grabs, is sure to see all kinds of fireworks.

Don’t agree with our list? Then just write or e-mail us with your suggestions and reasoning, and we’ll publish them in an upcoming issue.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Butte leader sees silver lining

Diana Van Der Ploeg

Photo By Tom Angel

Diana Van Der Ploeg believes budget crisis can be unifier
Back in Colorado, Diana Van Der Ploeg’s friends wondered if she was crazy, taking a job leading a community college in California, a state whose budget situation and apparent legislative disdain for so-called “junior colleges” is legendary.

But Van Der Ploeg is excited about taking the helm at Butte College and foresees a year that could be more about lobbying than lobbing hundreds of thousands of dollars off the school’s budget.

“The most challenging issue will be the budget, without a doubt,” she said, “and trying to minimize our reliance on the state.”

She relishes the thought of banding with other community colleges and telling their story to lawmakers, a tactic that met with some success last year. “Trying to get all of us together to have one voice is really powerful,” Van Der Ploeg said. “And we’re finally seeing more and more legislators who have gone to community college.”

Van Der Ploeg, who started work Aug. 1, 2003, and just recently sent for her two dogs, has a reputation for standing up for her schools—and herself. “I don’t usually back down much,” she said. “[Controversy] reaffirms the fact that you have to know what your values are.”

While it might be a tad overoptimistic, she doesn’t anticipate a lot of infighting on campus when cuts are made.

Butte College serves a hugely important role in the community, but it has had a tendency to act as an island unto itself, placing administrative autonomy ahead of communication.

Paul Zingg

Photo By Tom Angel

The big positive for 2004 is the construction of the bond-funded Chico center, which should be offering classes in spring 2005. “It’ll open up a whole new world for us in the Chico area,” said Van Der Ploeg, adding that the passage of the bond was a big show of support by the community for Butte College and its mission.

She also must figure out how to balance enrollment growth with available money. “We’re so broad in our mission. We want to help everybody.”

Besides asking a lot of questions and “not assuming anything,” Van Der Ploeg expects her 2004 will include dealing with turnover as longtime faculty members retire, increasing diversity and helping people understand what the college is all about.

One change she doesn’t plan to make is how Butte College teachers teach. “I don’t feel the need to walk in and change the culture of the classroom,” Van Der Ploeg said. “We have wonderful faculty.”

“I’ve always enjoyed variety. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I’m interested in a lot of things, and I always want to learn more,” she said. “I get bored very easily.”—Devanie Angel

Can style trump budget bitterness?

Paul Zingg hopes openness will make cutting less painful
Paul Zingg is still wrapping things up at his old job and scoping out a place to live in Chico. But his mental wheels are already spinning as he readies himself to take over the presidency of Chico State University on Feb. 1.

Debra Lucero

Photo By Tom Angel

“I’m secretly working already,” Zingg confided in a telephone interview from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he is leaving the post of provost and vice president for academic affairs. “My calendar is already filling up.”

He anticipates an interesting 2004 but one that will be dominated by a dark cloud: “The budget will be the big news.”

Zingg will be among those meeting with California State University system leaders to deconstruct the governor’s budget announcement due by Jan. 10. The new president predicts a budget crisis even worse than the one that forced massive cuts at CSUs in the early 1990s. “Those budget cuts were never fully restored,” he said, and the latest cuts “are going to stretch for three straight years.”

If Zingg wants a long honeymoon, he’ll have to be open and communicative—and he knows it. “Inclusion is the key,” he said. “I think the university is in good shape to have those conversations.”

All cuts, he said, will be based on the values and goals set by the campus as a whole. Chico State will have to ask itself, “What do you most want to preserve? What do you least want to lose?”

His worst fear is that the budget could compromise the access that is the cornerstone of state-supported education. Turning away qualified, eager-to-learn students “would be terrible. That’s short-sighted and tragic and it’s very problematic.”

Zingg opted not to venture a guess as to what might be the first controversial step he will take.

Rob Glusman (with raised hand)

Photo By Tom Angel

“Inevitably, someone’s going to be unhappy,” Zingg said, but he can take any criticism. “The buck stops here.”

One of his tasks will be to oversee the hiring of someone to replace retiring Vice President of University Advancement and Student Affairs Paul Moore, and Zingg is seeking someone who is a “team player.” But while one of Manuel Esteban’s last acts as president was to direct the hiring of an additional vice president, this one in charge of fund-raising, Zingg said he might choose to hold off on that one for at least a year because of the tight budget.

“I haven’t made up my mind whether I’m going to move on a new vice president in advancement right away,” he said. “I’m not convinced it is the first step that should be taken.”

Whatever he does, Zingg said, he wants the Chico community to get to know him as a president who’s out and about and who is open for discussion. “Trust and respect—it goes a long way,” he said.—Devanie Angel

Juggling a lot of apples

Debra Lucero planning a big year in the arts
Artists have a new friend. Well, she’s not really new—you just may not have realized yet what a friend you have in Debra Lucero.

As executive director of the arts advocacy and promotion group Friends of the Arts (the state-local partner of the California Arts Council), Lucero is spearheading the most involved and ambitious arts-friendly projects in Chico in the coming year. The very real plans with the Annies Arts Awards show, the National Endowment for the Arts-funded local cultural assessment project and her involvement in establishing an arts center in the old City Hall building all have the potential to change and shape how the overall arts community is perceived for years to come.


Photo By Tom Angel

“I’m gearing up for the Annies Arts Awards at Sierra Nevada,” shared the busy Lucero in a recent telephone interview. The now biennial arts awards show (which will take place Sunday, April 4, in the Big Room at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) is one of the cornerstones of the FOA organization, and planning the event has become more involved than simply assembling the seven selection committees in the disciplines of architecture, dance, film and video, literature, music, theater and visual arts.

“We’re honoring Asian culture this year,” explained Lucero.

“Each year we try to put a cultural influence [in the program]. …It’s always a challenge crossing over into all those [different] realms.”

Drawing from the active Hmong community and the history of the Chinese population in Butte County, the plan is to frame the awards ceremony thematically in the same way the 2002 program did with its focus on Maidu arts and culture.

With the new year also comes a new source of funds, as Friends of the Arts just received a $10,000 grant from the NEA for continuing its cultural assessment to determine, as Lucero puts it, “basically, what the artists need and what the community wants” with regard to local promotion and spending for the arts. It’s hoped that the information gathered in the cultural survey will be useful in helping Butte County’s Cultural Tourism Project (which Lucero also heads) and the Chico Chamber of Commerce’s Arts Marketing Campaign create the most comprehensive composite possible of the arts community in this area.

Also on her agenda is the formation of joint venture between the Chico Art Center and a consortium of Friends of the Arts, the Janet Turner Gallery and the Chico Area Parks and Recreation District. The two groups, which were both separately vying for use of the old City Hall, are now in mediation to come together and create “a center for art history and culture” out of the vacant downtown landmark.

Additionally, Lucero will be finishing up putting together the coffee-table book Land of Ishi: The Rugged Beauty of Northern California, featuring the striking photography of Kenneth Parker (www.kennethparker.com), as a fund-raiser for Friends.—Jason Cassidy

Bill Connelly

Photo By Tom Angel

New judge, DA square off

Rob Glusman at odds with Mike Ramsey on medpot cases
When Chico attorney Robert A. Glusman was appointed to Butte County Superior Court in September 2002, the legal community didn’t really know what to expect. After all, while Glusman had spent nearly three decades in family law, he had almost no experience in criminal court.

So it came as no surprise when Glusman made a decision that some considered unorthodox. What was surprising was that his decision went against a powerful and established district attorney, and what’s more Glusman stood by his decision in the face of that D.A.'s withering criticism. Glusman’s overturning of a medical-marijuana case has earned him both the respect of defense attorneys and closer scrutiny by Butte County D.A. Mike Ramsey.

The case Glusman threw out just happened to be Ramsey’s only successful prosecution of a medical-marijuana patient who was accused of selling his marijuana. After Glusman overturned the jury’s guilty verdict, Ramsey publicly criticized the decision, calling it a “rookie judge’s mistake” and saying Glusman’s “mind wasn’t right.” The case has been appealed to a higher court, and Ramsey has since disqualified Glusman from presiding over at least two other marijuana cases.

“We felt that he was just not educated enough, especially in [Proposition] 215 cases,” Ramsey said recently. “In those cases, we felt his philosophical bent might be detrimental to public safety.”

Glusman was out of town and thus unable to comment, but he recently told a legal journal that he stood by his decision. That same journal article quoted two local attorneys who supported Glusman’s decision and who felt that Ramsey was angry at Glusman for displaying too much independence.

Ramsey denied those allegations.

Tom DiGiovanni

Photo By Tom Angel

“I love it when judges think for themselves,” he said. “We make arguments based on what we think is right on a legal and factual basis.” And if a judge disagrees, Ramsey said, “That’s what the appellate court is for.”

This year, we’ll be watching to see whether Glusman gets his “mind right” or continues to challenge Ramsey. Aside from filing appeals, Ramsey can also disqualify Glusman from hearing some cases. (Just as a potential juror can be excused from a case, so can a judge.) Ramsey said he is not likely to issue a blanket challenge, as he believes Glusman is an excellent judge when it comes to environmental issues, domestic-violence cases and cases involving families. But you can bet that he also will be keeping a close eye on the “rookie” judge.—Josh Indar

Another brick in the Wal

-Mart plan for world domination
Last summer, amid much chaos, confusion and some subterfuge, it became clear—sort of—that Wal-Mart was going to expand its Forest Avenue store into a supercenter, basically doubling the size to 200,000 square feet and the workforce from 250 to 500. The supercenter offers groceries, and with Wal-Mart’s low prices due at least in part to low-paying, non-union jobs, unionized Safeway grocery clerks up for contract negotiations in July are more than a little concerned.

The last time the contract for the United Food & Commercial Workers was up, nine years ago, management tried to cut retirement and benefit packages, saying it could not compete with big-box stores such as Wal-Mart. That was before Wal-Mart started building supercenters, at least 40 of which are planned for California. And grocery workers in Southern California are currently locked into a three-month strike that has threatened to move north.

Last summer, Wal-Mart’s plans to expand were scuttled, not by the Chico City Council or Planning Commission, but rather by the giant corporation’s own bureaucratic layers of confusion and the inability to communicate with itself and resolve a property issue. The site where the expansion would take place, between the existing store and Wittmeier Auto Center, is owned by Wal-Mart Inc. The store sits on property owned by the Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust. They are two different entities incorporated out of Delaware.

A Chico land ordinance says a building may not sit across a property line of parcels owned by two separate companies. Until that is resolved there will be no expansion. That is the only leverage the city has to stop the expansion. Currently there is some confusion as to whether the two companies have resolved the problem. In the meantime a local man, John Shannon, first president of the Central Labor Council of Butte & Glenn Counties, has filed a court action to stop expansion based on the idea that it may violate the California Environmental Quality Act.

Coleen Jarvis

Photo By Tom Angel

Toward the end of last year, it was revealed that Wal-Mart was looking to purchase the Sunset Hills Golf Course on The Esplanade, just north of the city limits and under Butte County jurisdiction. Initial plans there are for a supercenter either in addition to or in place of the Forest Avenue store. Local officials speculate that Wal-Mart may be trying to send a signal to the city that, if it doesn’t get its way at the Forest Avenue store, it will simply vacate that location, leaving a big empty structure, and start over on The Esplanade.

The county, reacting to news of Wal-Mart sniffing around north of Chico, has taken a proactive stance. Supervisors Mary Anne Houx and Jane Dolan directed the county counsel to draft an ordinance that would require big-box businesses larger than 25,000 square feet to be issued a use permit before being allowed to build. Efforts to control the Beast from Bentonville, as Wal-Mart is sometimes called, have been strongly challenged in other counties and communities across the state and country. Look for some fireworks and good theater this summer.—Tom Gascoyne

Making a contest of it

Bill Connelly brings intrigue to supervisor’s race
Out of the three seats up for grabs in this year’s Butte County Board of Supervisors election—Districts 1, 4 and 5, held by Bob Beeler, of Oroville, Curt Josiassen, of Richvale, and Kim Yamaguchi, of Paradise, respectively—one race promises to be the most interesting. Current board Chairman Bob Beeler’s seat still looks pretty safe in this stage of the race, but with political newcomer Bill Connelly leading a grassroots challenge, there is at least likely to be plenty of intrigue.

Connelly, a licensed contractor and Oroville native, said he is running because he simply believes he can do a better job. While not as well-connected with the political in-crowd as Beeler seems to be, Connelly has gained support from some locals who are frustrated with the Lake Oroville relicensing process—which looks to be a major issue in the campaign—and has the backing of six out of seven Oroville City Council members. His platform includes cleaning up blight in Oroville, pressing the state for more local perks when the Oroville Dam is granted a new federal license and creating more jobs in his district.

Connelly admits he has made some neophyte mistakes early on in his campaign, such as referring to Beeler as “mumbling and fumbling” at board meetings, as well as missing a deadline for filing campaign finance disclosures. The Beeler camp has been quick to point out Connelly’s gaffes, making much of the fact that Connelly has never held office and alleging that his relative inexperience and lack of political contacts would make him an ineffective supervisor. Connelly has retorted that Beeler had also never held a public office before his successful run for supervisor in 1996.

“The established politicians won’t elect me; the people will elect me,” Connelly said in reference to Beeler’s list of endorsers—right-of-center bigwigs such as Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, Rep. John Doolittle; R-Granite Bay, state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, state Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, and Oroville Mayor Gordon Andoe. Connelly, in classic form as the political outsider, maintains that Beeler’s connections to these established politicos are more of a liability than an asset. His attempt to stake a claim to the regular Joes of District 1 should provoke an entertaining political catfight or two in a supervisors’ race looks to be otherwise fairly dull.

Steve Bertagna

Photo By Tom Angel

Connelly is 50, a registered Republican, has been married for over 30 years and has two kids. He’s an Air Force veteran, a former motocross champ and rides a Harley when he isn’t on a contracting job.—Josh Indar

New designs for 2004

With Meriam Park Tom DiGiovanni hopes to leave a legacy
Tom DiGiovanni is an unusual breed of developer. He wants people to critique his designs, he doesn’t have a beef with developer fees and he doesn’t really care if he ends up rich.

“I think this will be a great year,” predicts DiGiovanni, whose name has become synonymous with innovation in neighborhood design in Chico.

With available land shrinking and house prices rising, DiGiovanni’s Heritage Partners is planning to spend the next decade turning 250 acres in Southeast Chico into a neighborhood, or series of neighborhoods, that will redefine development here.

He still has a couple of years to go building out Doe Mill Neighborhood, the neat rows of houses that Chicoans either find charmingly cozy or too close together. His next “sense of place” will be named Meriam Park, after the late civic leader Ted Meriam.

DiGiovanni didn’t exactly rise to “fame” overnight. He came to Chico 16 years ago to work on a project that never even got built.

Dan Nguyen-Tan

Photo By Tom Angel

But he believes Chico has always been ready for “new urbanist” development—it’s just taken a while for developers to catch up with the demand for homey, self-contained neighborhoods on narrow, easily navigated streets.

He said that although the developers of the Diamond Match/Barber Yard property take a different approach to new urbanism than he does, that infill project is another sign of the move away from the post-World War II cul-de-sacs and garage-dominated houses on large lots.

“There’s no such thing as the perfect place and the perfect life,” DiGiovanni said. “But we want to be known for doing really good work. … In reality, a developer plays a transitory role, but the impact of what’s done, whether it’s done well or not, is a long-term legacy.”

During a charrette held in early December, citizens were invited to see world-renowned new urbanists work on the design for Meriam Park, and DiGiovanni said all suggestions were welcome and many are being incorporated into the plan.

DiGiovanni said charrettes that truly weigh the advice of the community are a smart move for any developer, not just from an ethical standpoint, but also because, “from a purely practical and utilitarian standpoint, you can avoid problems and create value by listening to folks.”

“When someone has a critique, I really want to listen,” he said.

DiGiovanni doesn’t think he’ll have any problem convincing city leaders, during permit processes and hearings planned for this year, that this unconventional approach to building is good for the city. “[Even] those councilmembers who are perceived to be friendly to [conventional] developers believe in a free-market approach to the business.”

Larry Wahl

Photo By Tom Angel

“Bigger is not always better,” he said, but Meriam Park should have something for everyone—even those with incomes below Chico’s median. “The boomer generation is beginning to downsize. There’s no need to build the ‘unibox’ that everyone would be OK with but nobody loves.”—Devanie Angel

Four council seats up

Year offers possible power shift for city politics
If the letters-to-the-editor page is any barometer, it’s fair to say that the campaign for four City Council seats up for election this November has begun. Local gadfly John Gillander, who’s kept a low profile in recent times, is back in the game and has already sent and had published in the Chico Enterprise-Record two hit pieces against Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan.

Gillander’s first letter, published about a month ago, charged Nguyen-Tan with carrying out the anti-growth wishes of an unnamed political benefactor based on Nguyen-Tan’s push for a minimal Humboldt Dump cleanup, one that would do little to facilitate and finance residential development in the area. The second letter said “Nguyen-Tan and his City Council Democratic majority” wanted to charge an average property owner $5,000 to remove a dead tree from his or her land without permission.

Both letters are filled with half-truths, nonsense and vague accusations—as is the typical political hit-piece—but they are also protected by the First Amendment and decades of court rulings protecting free speech in matters of public concern.

Nguyen-Tan and Councilmembers Coleen Jarvis, Larry Wahl and Steve Bertagna see their terms expire this year.

Jarvis, Nguyen-Tan and Scott Gruendl sit on the left side of the council, both physically and politically, while Wahl, Bertagna and Dan Herbert are on the right. If the four incumbents are re-elected, the status quo, with moderate Mayor Maureen Kirk casting the swing vote on controversial issues, will remain. But the conservatives in Chico, who have little interest in compromise, would love to knock Nguyen-Tan and/or Jarvis off the council and replace them with candidates holding strong conservative values.

No talk yet, at least publicly, on who could run. Short-term planning commissioner and nature trail enthusiast Michael Jones says he’d given the possibility some thought but will not run this year.

Strategies on both sides will most likely call for running only one candidate along with the incumbents so as to not risk diluting votes. Names often bandied about in a council election year include bike advocate Ed McLaughlin on the liberal side and banker Jolene Francis on the conservative side.—Tom Gascoyne