Who we watched in 2004

How good were our predictions? See what you think

It’s always interesting to look back at our “Who to Watch” predictions of the previous year to see how sharp our crystal ball was. Last year’s selections are listed below, along with short descriptions of their newsworthy contributions. In all modesty, we think most of our selections turned out to be worthy choices, making news and having impacts. Will we do as well for 2005? Tune in next year at this time.

Diana Van Der Ploeg
As we predicted, this has been a big year for the new president of Butte Community College, who took office in the fall of 2003. On the negative side, she’s been forced to wrestle with spending cuts necessitated by the state of California’s budget weakness, but fortunately they haven’t been as bad as anticipated, in part because voters passed a $15 billion budget-balancing bond measure in March. On the positive side, she presided over the opening, in December, of the college’s sparkling new 54,000-square-foot, $16.3 million Chico Center, which promises to revitalize the college by attracting more students.

Paul Zingg
The area’s other new college president—he started work on Feb. 2—has quickly established himself as a leader at Chico State University. Like Van Der Ploeg, Zingg has faced daunting budget shortages, but so far at least the university seems to be weathering them. In his fall convocation speech, Zingg was upbeat, saying that overall “there are many good reasons to be positive.” In November he announced that he would be hiring a full-time vice-president for fund-raising in hopes of increase Chico’s non-state income. He also showed he wasn’t afraid to take a stand, insisting late in the year that he opposed state-mandated growth goals for the university as too burdensome for the Chico community. Zingg is both liked and respected, which bodes well for the university’s future.

Debra Lucero
This art maven’s biggest project of the year, the biannual Annies Awards, sponsored by the group she heads, Friends of the Arts, came off without a hitch in June, attracting a large crowd to the Sierra Nevada Big Room to enjoy a “smooth and entertaining production of performances, video montages, homages to our local Asian heritage and, of course, award presentations,” as our review put it. Lucero was also active in working out an agreement whereby several arts groups will develop the old Municipal Building downtown into an arts center. Look for her to be busy on that front in 2005.

Rob Glusman
Butte County’s newest judge started off the year under the scrutiny of powerful District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who was upset that the “rookie judge” had tossed out a jury’s guilty verdict in a 2003 medical-marijuana case. But the two men say they have forged a truce since then, and Glusman successfully presided over the most notorious case of the year, that of Gina Rose Grinsell, the Chico sorority woman who killed her newborn baby. He also handled the high-profile case of Matthew Lakota, the so-called “vexatious litigator” accused of handing out false parking tickets to supposed handicapped-zone violators, and that of and accused murderer Kelly Fredericksen.

In Chico as elsewhere in California, the retail behemoth made news as it worked to realize its plan to build 40 new “Superstores” in the state, including, apparently, two in Chico. It gave plans to the city this year both to expand the current Wal-Mart on Forest Avenue and construct a new Superstore on land currently being used by North Chico’s Sunset Hills Golf Course. Many Chicoans oppose the projects because they fear Wal-Mart will drive out small businesses and they deplore its predatory pricing tactics, but so far the city of Chico has been timorous, perhaps out of a desire to reap the windfall in sales tax revenues the stores will generate.

Bill Connelly
As we predicted, Connelly made the race for Dist. 1 (Oroville area) county supervisor interesting, running a grassroots campaign that defeated incumbent Bob Beeler, despite Beeler’s endorsement by all the heavyweight Republican pols in the area. But that was way back in March, and for the rest of 2004 he’s been biding his time, waiting till this month to be seated. The contractor-turned-politico has been keeping himself engaged in politics by attending the Oroville Dam relicensing meetings as a member of Oroville’s Low-Flow Alliance, a group of citizens who want increased recreation around the lake. He’s also been reading books on how to govern, including Machiavelli’s classic The Prince.

Tom DiGiovanni
Chico’s most innovative developer was less visible than expected in 2004, perhaps because his ambitious Meriam Park “new urbanist” development in east Chico is moving slower through the planning pipeline than anticipated (look for it in 2005). He did pop up in the news, however, when he installed a large bank of solar panels on the roof of the building he owns at Fifth and Flume streets downtown that houses the University of Phoenix. It’s the largest privately owned solar array in Butte County. DiGiovanni said he is committed to putting solar on any commercial buildings he buys or builds.

Four City Council seats
We knew in January that four council seats, two held by liberals, two by conservatives, would be up for election in November and that fact would play big in the coming year. And so it did, though not exactly in the way we anticipated. First, Coleen Jarvis, one of the liberals, died in office in May, leaving the council with a 3-3 split that effectively hobbled it for the rest of the year. Then Dan Nguyen-Tan, the other liberal, announced he wasn’t running for re-election. When the election came, sure enough, the two conservatives, Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl, won re-election, but two fresh liberal faces, Ann Schwab and Andy Holcombe, also won, restoring the council’s former 4-3 liberal majority.