Who to watch in 2005

Look for these people to make news in the coming year

A new year means new beginnings, which is no doubt why it’s a time when pundits in the media and elsewhere do their heaviest prognosticating. We’re hardly immune to this tendency, having done these annual “Who to Watch” issues for many years now. It’s a welcome chance for us to do something we don’t often do, which is make guesses, rather then report observations and analyze events.

Who are the people or events or agencies that are going to have an impact in the coming year? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but we can make educated guesses. (You can turn to the sidebar story, “Who we watched in 2004,” on page 18 to see how we did last year. Pretty darned well, we think.) Of course, we have a couple of edges in this regard: For one thing, it’s our job to know this stuff, and besides nobody will hold us accountable for all the people we didn’t select who turned out to have a big impact in 2005.

In any event, let us know what you think of our list. Perhaps you’d like to make your own nomination. Send us a letter or e-mail explaining why we should watch your nominee and we’ll share it with readers.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!

NFL or bust
Aaron Rodgers makes the move to the big league

In the world of sports, a difference of 1/100th of a percentage point often separates the winners from the losers. But the difference between the California Golden Bears and Texas Longhorns football teams, the difference that elevated Texas to the Rose Bowl and dropped Cal to the Holiday Bowl versus Texas Tech, didn’t come on a dramatic score during the final drive of a game. It came from a computer.

That computer, charged by the Bowl Championship Series committee to decide which team deserves to play in the major bowl games, not only broke Cal’s heart (giving the Rose Bowl nod to Texas despite both the AP and ESPN polls putting Cal ahead in the standings), but also the collective hearts of the fans in Chico who were hoping to see their hometown hero, former Pleasant Valley High and Butte College standout Aaron Rodgers, play in the most prestigious bowl game in the West.

A deflated Cal couldn’t keep up with Texas Tech, losing 45-31 last Thursday.

Rodgers’ fairy tale story—the high school phenom who was passed over by the major college recruiters only to land fortuitously in Butte College’s well-regarded program and be discovered by Cal’s rising coaching star Jeff Tedford and go on to national prominence as one of top QBs in the land, leading his team to a No. 4 national ranking at season’s end—may have encountered a hiccup, but his future has plenty of drama left.

The initial suspense is over—Rodgers has decided to leave Cal and forgo his senior season to enter the 2005 NFL draft. He’ll become a rich young man overnight, but will he be a top-10 draft pick and possibly end up on his childhood hero Joe Montana’s old team, the 49ers? Will he make the transition to the pros as smoothly as earlier upgrades from high school to junior college and from JC to Division I? There’s no question that all eyes in Chico will be watching closely.

Aaron Rodgers

—Jason Cassidy

Looking ahead
CUSD Superintendent Brown says tough issues are in good hands

Surely we here at the CN&R won’t be the only ones watching Chico Unified School District Superintendent Scott Brown in 2005.

Last year Brown and Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan emerged as key players in the drama that saw Sloan eventually being reassigned as assistant principal of Fair View High School and Brown coming under fire from some teachers and parents as having a vendetta toward the popular principal.

Brown says he personally wouldn’t change the way things were handled and that the controversy stemmed from the lack of information available to the public since the district was dealing with a personnel issue.

“Frankly, I had more knowledge than probably anyone,” he said. “But I couldn’t say anything.”

Brown said one of his main goals for the coming year is to open the lines of communication between himself and parents in the district. “I want to allow myself to be more accessible to parents,” he said. “More so the critics.”

The district has important issues to deal with in 2005, in particular the more than $1 million deficit in the budget and the possibility of school closures. Brown said the issue of closing campuses will no doubt be the most taxing and time consuming matter the district will face this year.

But, like many other CUSD officials, Brown said that while dealing with school closure is not a pleasant issue, it does allow the district to keep programs intact. “The charm of campus consolidation is that the programs don’t change,” he said.

Brown said the district is also looking to fill the position of assistant superintendent of personnel by spring, which he said will be crucial to find the right person who can develop a strong relationship with the teachers’ union.

Brown said his goals for the upcoming year match his responsibilities as superintendent. He said school boards are usually divided by the issues at hand and individual personalities of their members, and that it’s his job to keep the CUSD Board of Trustees speaking with one voice.

Scott Brown

“The problems we face are big enough,” Brown said. “We don’t need to argue about petty things.”

Brown said Chico is unique in the fact that the board members come from such different backgrounds and that they’re off to a good start with the addition of newly elected Jann Reed. “These are people whom I’m not afraid to put an issue in front of and have the confidence that the results will be the best for the district and the community.”

—Mark Lore

Synthesizing success
Media entrepreneurs Bill Fishkin and Steve Pankhurst get busy

Truth be told, the CN&R has been watching Bill Fishkin for years now—first as an upstart publisher who launched a competing weekly in 1994, then as a partner in one of the area’s most successful ad agencies, and now, along with business partner Steve Pankhurst, as the force behind what’s beginning to look like a media mini-empire.

We caught up with Fishkin and Pankhurst at a local coffee house to discuss their plans to dominate the local print media market, one niche publication at a time.

Looking back over an 11-year entrepreneurial publishing career, Fishkin said that despite the long hours and sometimes jarring learning curve, he’s been able to do what many only dream of—making a living doing what he loves. It all started with the Synthesis, a free weekly paper covering the local music and arts scene.

“The Synthesis we started in a spare bedroom in my apartment in 1994 with a Visa card,” Fishkin said. “I saw a hole in the college market, the under-30 crowd and the over-30 hipsters. … Basically I just saw an opportunity and ran with it.”

That opportunity may have cost Fishkin, now 35 and recently a new father, a college degree, as the Synthesis soon began to consume most of his time. But his decision to drop out of Chico State University a few units short of a psychology degree may have been the best he’s ever made, as the paper soon led to other opportunities, most important the Juggernaut ad agency that Fishkin and Pankhurst started up about eight years ago.

The agency, which handles both local and national clients, enabled the two young entrepreneurs not only to make and exploit key connections with other area businesspeople, but also to forge a partnership that has effectively doubled their productivity.

“It sounds corny, but we kind of complete each other,” Pankhurst said. “We [each] pick up where the other leaves off as far as core competencies. The nice thing is we create a 48-hour day—because there’s two of us—so we’re able to get a lot more done.”

(L-R) Bill Fishkin and Steve Pankurst

Photo By Josh Indar

Juggernaut scored a coup early on, beating out several high-profile firms in the pitch for a TV spot for Warner Bros. Along with successes in the ad game, the pair was able to grow the Synthesis into the largest independent music Web site in the country, boasting over 200,000 subscribers and something like 5 million overall hits to the site per month.

Gradually, the duo set their sights on creating new local publications that would serve both their expanding list of ad clients and the region’s steadily growing population. Last year, Fishkin and Pankhurst started both the home-and-garden-oriented monthly, InSideOut, and a business quarterly called the Upstate Business Journal. Both publications utilize the staff and resources already in place for Juggernaut and the Synthesis, which allowed for minimal start-up costs and a ready-made advertising base.

Both publications also use local businesspeople—some of whom buy ads in the same issues—as writers, a practice that caused some in the industry (O.K., really just some of us here at the CN&R) to ask whether the publications were practicing what is known as “advertorialism,” a journalistically frowned-upon mix of ad and editorial content.

“We don’t think so,” Pankhurst said. “The two sides are completely separated. There’s a specific line drawn. We aren’t unique in this—these publications exist in most major markets. The difference is, they are advertorial. [Our writers] are allowed to write about the industry they are involved in, just not their specific business. If you look at it, no one’s writing, ‘Hey, my store’s cool, come see me.'”

“And they’re experts,” Fishkin added. “They know what they’re talking about.”

Despite the strain of starting up two new publications, Fishkin and Pankhurst said their business is operating nowhere near capacity. They recently doubled the size of their offices when they moved into a downtown space that used to be a dancehall and performance venue. While they were understandably cagey about revealing their plans for the future, they did divulge that the Upstate Business Journal will soon be coming out monthly rather than quarterly, and the Synthesis Website is headed for a re-design.

“We’ve got a lot of things in the works,” Fishkin said. “We’re going to develop what we’ve got in our portfolio and continue to work on new opportunities. You don’t want to be second—being first to market with [these publications] is what we stand for. It’s what we’re all about.”

—Josh Indar

Reed between the lines
New trustee brings ‘motherly’ instincts to school board

Jann Reed said she learned what it was to have a thick skin when she decided to run for the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees.

Thanks mostly to the Marsh Junior High School mini-drama of 2004, the race for the two open seats on the school board rivaled that for the presidency locally. In the end Reed, a mother of three children attending CUSD schools, came out ahead edging, incumbents Rick Anderson and Steve O’Bryan as the top vote-getter.

Jann Reed

A large part of Reed’s campaign emphasized the fact that the board was missing something—a mother’s voice. “I felt it was important to look at things from different vantage points,” Reed said.

Now Reed, along with the rest of the board members, faces some big issues. One of the main ones is dealing with the $1 million deficit in the district’s budget.

Reed said she has met several times with Superintendent Scott Brown and Assistant Superintendent Randy Meeker in order to get acquainted with complicated budgetary jargon.

“I’m impressed with Jann’s insight based on the questions she asks me,” Brown said.

Of course, the talk of school closure fits right in with the looming budget. Reed said she’d like to consider other scenarios before taking that drastic step, but that if schools are to be shut down, they examine the older campuses at the end of their lifespan.

Reed even suggested looking at the option of going to a four-day school week to save the district money, something Pacific Valley School in Monterey County and Leggett Valley Unified School District in Mendocino County have already implemented.

Another one of Reed’s goals is to examine why Chico is growing by leaps and bounds but school enrollment continues to decline, which she believes runs deeper than simply retirees moving into Chico.

Reed said education and growth go hand in hand and that the district must accommodate growth as well as the different needs and abilities of students. “Educating the populace is the most important thing we can do,” Reed said. “We need to keep our schools thriving in order to maintain growth.”

—Mark Lore

The squeaky wheel
Gregg Payne is the busiest arts activist in Chico

There’s hardly a more visible body of work in Chico than that of local artist Gregg Payne. The mural inside the Pageant Theatre? That’s his. The Beatles from Abbey Road on the wall outside Herreid Music? Gregg too. The giant interactive Xylophone in Wildwood Park … OK, you get the idea. This guy gets around.

Greg Payne

Since coming to Chico in 1980, Payne has been busy making art. Between his public art projects and the logos and artwork he’s created for dozens of local business (from Gashouse Pizza to Tres Hombres), Payne’s artistic vision has become a part of Chico’s identity. And he’s only just begun.

“Where would I even start?” is Payne’s response when asked what plans are in the works for the near future. At 6 feet 4 inches, Payne dwarfs the little wooden cafà chair in the Naked Lounge as he drapes across the table to share colorful, psychedelic pictures on his I-Pod ("It has more memory than my home computer") taken while looking through a giant “Teleidoscope” he made and hopes to create more of for public use.

There are also the giant 16-foot-tall wind chimes, currently hanging from a very popular tree outside the home in front of his workshop ("the people who live there now know all their neighbors") but destined for permanent placement inside a giant metal tetrahedron (four-sided pyramid) to be built on the big lawn where the old scrap yard used to be on Humboldt Avenue.

But his main focus right now, what Payne calls “the coolest job of all time,” is making 25 concrete cubes to be placed on the plaza outside the expanded Boys and Girls Club. The pint-sized benches are colored with aggregate recycled beer bottles, tumbled smooth and added to the mix along with miscellaneous materials, such as “cool metal doodads” that will be imbedded in the blocks, funded by sponsorship donations of $5,000 per cube to the B&G Club.

Besides his creative ventures, Payne is possibly the most vocal and active arts advocate in town, working to get programs such as the downtown COBA project started and managing the aerosol artists who’ve been commissioned to paint butterflies along the Lindo Channel and life-sized train cars along the railroad tracks. Plus, he’s a great squeaky wheel, keeping watch and offering his opinion on the city’s and community’s discussions regarding the arts.

“Dan Donnelly [director of Chico Art Center] always jokes that I’m the arts terrorist,” Payne says, laughing and then adding, “I really think that what’s the public process is all about, where people all show up and voice their opinions about things and get involved and participate with it. My only regrets are problems I didn’t cause when I had the opportunity.”

While his efforts to be a part of the new Arts Commission were derailed when it seemed current publicly funded projects might create conflict-of-interest issues, Payne is no less active. His immediate crusade is for an aerosol art gallery on the concrete walls underneath Hwy 99 along Lindo Channel, and by pushing for dream proposals like this (along with earlier aerosol projects) Payne is helping the oft-maligned spray-paint artists improve their image and show off their overlooked talents.

As if that weren’t enough, he is also the leading spokesman and advocate for the disc golf enthusiasts whose course, in Upper Bidwell Park, is under fire because of the harm it’s alleged to cause the trees and soil. Look for him to be very active on this front, too.

—Jason Cassidy

Back to the left
New City Council regains its former slight tilt

With four seats open this election year, the City Council saw two new faces join its ranks, filling the seven-member body for the first time since May.

New councilmembers, left to right, Larry Wahl, Steve Bertagna, Andy Holcombe, and Ann Schwab are sworn in by Judge Darrell Stevens.

Photo By Josh Indar

With the death of Councilwoman Coleen Jarvis and the decision by Councilman Dan Nguyen-Tan not to run for re-election, there was a chance for significant political change on the council. Because the two liberal seats were open and council incumbents traditionally do well in elections, the conservatives had an opportunity to reclaim the council majority they hadn’t enjoyed in two years.

During those last two years, the council was fairly well balanced, with three conservatives, three liberals and Mayor Maureen Kirk, a classic swing voter who tended to lean slightly to the left. This remains the case, as Jarvis and Nguyen-Tan have been replaced by liberals Ann Schwab and Andy Holcombe, who join fellow liberal and new Mayor Scott Gruendl.

Conservative incumbents Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl return to join Dan Herbert as the ongoing conservative bloc. And remaining in the swing seat is Kirk. What may be different is that two of the three liberals are new and it may take some time for the trio to gel as an effective wing.

At its very first meeting, as soon as the new and re-elected members were sworn in, the council immediately divided over the picking of the new mayor. The political die was cast for the next two years by the very first vote.

Development, where and how, will continue to be the most important issue facing this council. Other matters will also be considered, discussed and possibly acted upon: what to do with Bidwell Ranch; expansions of Enloe Medical Center and the Chico Municipal Airport; tainted groundwater in south Chico; development of the old Diamond Match property; downtown building and the push for greater maximum building heights; and the onslaught of Wal-Mart pushing to expand its existing store and build a new one north of town on land set to be annexed into the city.

Speaking of which, the city will also see the annexation of the Chapman area into the city, including Chico Scrap Metal and its accompanying cleanup.

—Tom Gascoyne

Meet the Parent
Chico Outlaws manager plays hard to win

Chico Outlaws Manager Mark Parent likes what he sees as a handful of hopefuls take their hacks at Mac’s Professional Baseball School just north of town.

The 43-year-old Parent, who grew up in nearby Cottonwood before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1979, is scouting local players to help fill the roster for Chico’s new baseball club, which is set to begin its inaugural season in May.

After the batters finish banging through a large bucket of baseballs, Parent tells them he’ll be in touch before leaving them with a few parting words. “Stay in good shape, get in better shape and maintain your focus,” he tells them.

Mark Parent

Being part of the new Golden Baseball League, Parent said there isn’t the luxury of a farm system to develop players and that the team has to make the most of the tools it has. In turn, he says, players should play hard every day not only to win, but also to move on to the next level.

“You have a small window of opportunity to play this game,” he said. “Why waste it?”

In his 13 seasons as a major-league catcher, Parent played with seven teams, including the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs.

Parent doesn’t mince words. And when he discusses his approaches to managing, his no-nonsense attitude comes through. He said it was his time playing with the Ripkens, in particular the late Cal Ripken Sr., that helped instill his strong work ethic.

Parent makes it sound easy, saying that if players work hard and have a willingness to improve, everything else will fall into place.

“The game has got to be fun,” Parent said. “If you work hard and win, it will be fun. If you’re out there to look good for the ladies, I’m not your guy.”

The philosophy must work. In 2000 Parent managed the Lancaster Jethawks, which at the time was the Seattle Mariners’ single-A affiliate, and led the team to a franchise-best 89-51 record, earning him the California League’s Manager of the Year award.

And Parent has no problem being the fall guy if the team isn’t playing to its potential. “That’s my job. And if I don’t do my job, then I’m out.” He pauses. “I’ll take myself out.”

—Mark Lore

In Dr. King’s name
Joe Person is working to honor the fallen civil-rights hero

Joe Person, former restaurateur and current activist for the Chapman area, is determined to see that the name of the Community Park on East 20th Street be extended to the Martin Luther King Community Park.

Joe Person

He and a group of supporters went before the Chico Area Recreation Board last fall in an attempt to finally solve what had become a divisive issue that at times smacked of racism.

About a year ago, efforts were launched to rename a Chico street after the slain civil-rights leader. The move was initially championed by local activist Willie Hyman, who looked to rename the Ivy/Warner street corridor that runs through west Chico and the Chico State University campus.

But the effort ran into opposition from city officials and others who offered a number of reasons for not supporting the idea: Changing the street name would prove unreasonably burdensome to the residents and businesses who lived and operated along the street; the change was disrespectful to the Warner Bros. studios, which filmed The Adventures of Robin Hood here 70 years ago; it would ruin forever the acronym Chico, which is formed by sequential locations, heading east to west, of Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry and Orange streets.

When it became clear that Ivy/Warner Street would not change to King Street anytime soon, another community activist, Jackie Leser, suggested the Community Park option. But Hyman, frustrated by the resistance he’d encountered initially, argued that a white person should not be offering suggestions on how to honor King. That’s when Person stepped in to support Leser’s suggestion, first by speaking before the Chico City Council and then by taking the matter to the Chico Area Recreation District, which operates the park.

CARD first heard arguments for the change from a number of people, including Person, who said King was one of the two greatest Americans of the 20th century. Person presented the CARD board with a petition of 700 signatures showing support for the name change.

“I gathered those at the park,” he said, “and eight out of every 10 people I approached were positive.”

But at its next meeting, on Oct. 21, the CARD directors voted 3-2 not to change the name, saying it would violate a policy that calls for local parks to be named after local people. The three board members who voted no remain on the board, but Person vows to bring the matter back.

“They did some ungracious things when they turned our proposal down,” he said recently. “We’ve got a lot of support. We’ve been meeting, we have a committee that meets on Mondays, we are forming a strategy.

He called the CARD meeting in which the name-change was rejected “devastating in our minds.”

“Our goal is an addition to the Community Park name,” he said. “We’re not planning on anything else. We don’t want to rename a street; we’re just trying to find out if CARD wants to reverse themselves. This is injustice to the African community.

Person said the anonymous borderline-racist phone-in comments to the local daily paper should be disregarded in the overall discussion.

Bill Connelly

“There are lots of great facilities in the CARD system and in the city of Chico,” Person said. “We’re not trying to rename any streets; that is heavy-duty controversy. We just want to add on to the name of Community Park.”

—Tom Gascoyne

Heavy potential
Oroville Supervisor Bill Connelly has his work cut out

If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that we “watched” Bill Connelly at this time last year. But after he pulled off a major grassroots upset and unseated former District 1 (Oroville) Supervisor Bob Beeler, there wasn’t much watching we could do.

It wasn’t that Connelly was idle the rest of the year—he spent almost every other Tuesday at supervisors’ meetings, taking diligent notes and meeting county government figures. But because of California’s insane experiment with moving up the date of its elections last year, Connelly had eight long months to wait before he could take his seat on the board.

That time, Connelly said, was productive in that he was able to learn a lot about county government. Now that he is about to take office, he said he is ready to get down to business, starting with his top three legislative priorities: negotiating a fair settlement for the relicensing of the Oroville Dam; creating jobs for his economically distressed district; and pushing for a four-lane expansion of Highway 70.

Those priorities in themselves are not remarkable, as Oroville has historically played second-fiddle to Chico in Butte County’s development and has had trouble turning its extensive natural resources and status as the county seat into economic viability. What will make Connelly’s presence on the board worth watching is how he promises to get things done, by working closely with Oroville city leaders, using his contacts with local business and community groups and leveraging his power as the traditional swing vote on the board. As a political outsider, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

“This thing with the three-on-two voting, I don’t believe in that. I believe supervisors should put the people of their districts first. I have a broad spectrum of people I’m supposed to represent. I’m not trying to gain a higher political office or attach myself to any party. I think if you can be yourself and be honest, then good things will come out of that”

Connelly said Oroville problems can and should be dealt with by those in Oroville city government, while his efforts should be focused on those served only by county government, especially those in rural areas, where representation has often been lacking. That said, he believes in Oroville and thinks the city has the most potential of any municipality in the county.

“This is really a great place to be from,” he said. “At one time it was the third-largest city in California, back in the 1800s.” Yet a lack of planning and some devastating economic decisions over the years have turned Oroville into a patchwork of charming old buildings and scenic vistas interspersed with vacant, trash-filled lots and rundown drug shanties. While many in Oroville are looking to the dam relicensing process as a way of generating funds to get Oroville back on track, Connelly said the city can’t put all its eggs in that one basket.

“The relicensing of the dam is very important to Oroville, but we need to be working on other things as well. My district has the highest unemployment rate in Butte County, it’s generally very poor, yet it also has the most potential for growth, and we need to see that and figure out how to make it happen in a way that uplifts the entire area.”

—Josh Indar