Whom to watch in 2018
A new year and new hope for the community
Do we here at the CN&R think 2018 will be as tumultuous and stressful as 2017? How about instead of answering that depressing question, we instead just commit to doing good work and trying to make our community better? We’ll start by highlighting some of the people we will be watching in the new year, those who likely will have an impact on the lives of Butte County residents. They include a new director of Chico’s homeless shelter, a vice mayor in Oroville, an administrator for a new charter school, a savior of a cherished local institution, and a look ahead at the Chico City Council race.
Sheltering bodies, comforting souls
Joy Amaro shouldered open the front door of the Torres Community Shelter just past 8 a.m. one recent Monday, her arms too full to use the handle. In one hand she carried a bundle of paperwork, and in the other a pet crate occupied by a black-and-white cat named Sheba.
“My baaaaaaaaaby,” a shelter guest named Kathryn exclaimed, rushing to take the pet carrier from Amaro, who became the shelter’s executive director in August. Kathryn made kissy-faces at her beloved pet, who reciprocated by nudging her nose against the kennel’s wire door.
“I missed you so much,” Kathryn continued, beaming at the cat, then at Amaro. “Thanks for bringing her in today!”
Minutes later, in Amaro’s office, she explained the joyful reunion. Kathryn was one of 11 people displaced when a fire ripped through their shared living facility in November. All formerly were—and are again—homeless, and the Torres Shelter was among several service providers that scrambled to respond.
“I was there assessing who we could take in and helping them gather what belongings they had left,” Amaro said. “They didn’t know what to do with their cat, so I took her home and have been fostering her since. I bring her in as often as I can, but some days are crazier than others.”
That trial by fire came shortly after Amaro assumed her new position, and she’s already endured other difficulties. In addition to the weight of her job duties—which include meeting the nightly needs of an ever-expanding guest population, and overseeing staffing, fundraising and the implementation of programming—she soon learned about the political perils related to her position.
At a Nov. 7 Chico City Council meeting, Amaro raised questions about the Jesus Center’s plan to move a stone’s throw away from the Torres Shelter. She said then—and reiterated to the CN&R—that she isn’t decidedly against the move, but believes the process needs to happen with as much communication and transparency as possible.
Last January, the CN&R reported the shelter had to buy more beds to accommodate what was then its largest number of guests, 149. When former Executive Director Brad Montgomery left in July, he said the shelter’s nightly population lingered around 135; just four months later, Amaro said the shelter is regularly filled to capacity with 160 guests.
A full 25 percent of those guests—roughly 40 people on any given night—are children, “from just-born to 18 years old,” said Amaro, who holds a degree in child development from Chico State. Prior to taking the job at the shelter, she was executive director for the Glenn County Children and Families Commission (aka First 5 Glenn County), and said her career has long been geared toward providing services for low-income families on the cusp of—or experiencing—homelessness.
That background, and the fact that her first day of work at Torres aligned with Chico Unified School District’s first day of the school year, dictated that one of her first goals was shoring up the shelter’s collaborative efforts with the district and other agencies to help young guests overcome barriers to obtaining an education—from transportation needs to tutoring.
“My core focus is building partnerships to enhance all of our services,” she said.
Amaro anticipates a big year in 2018, with the proposed Jesus Center move and myriad other issues surrounding the hot-button topic of homelessness heating up.
“I can see how this job can eat you alive,” she said. “But if you’re working for an unhealthy organization, that can be worse. There’s a really positive infusion of new energy happening here right now.”
Just one month after being sworn in for her first term on the Oroville City Council—as vice mayor—in 2017, Janet Goodson was faced with one of the most difficult situations any political leader may endure: a natural disaster. With the city’s mayor out of the state at the time of the Oroville Dam spillway failure and evacuation, Goodson was thrust into Oroville’s top spot, tasked with communicating with state officials and engineers all while maintaining a level of calm among the chaos.
“You don’t have the luxury of reacting to the situation with anxiety,” Goodson said during a recent interview at one of her favorite Oroville spots, The Patio. “You have to be in a state of readiness and find the most appropriate verbiage to connect with your constituents.”
That experience reminded Goodson of why she ran for office in the first place—to give a voice to the people, particularly those who are traditionally underrepresented—and why she’s decided to take her role a step further in 2018 and pursue the position of mayor in the November election.
“Right now, we’re in dire straits,” she said matter-of-factly, explaining that Oroville’s budget deficit is at $1.8 million. “The city is fiscally unsound and not healthy.”
Goodson, who studied journalism and English at the University of Oregon and earned an associate’s degree in social studies and behavioral science from Butte College, works as a parent partner for Youth for Change, which provides services for families and at-risk youth. She considers herself to be a realist as well as someone who listens to all sides before coming to informed decisions.
“People say, ‘We need to bring business in,’” Goodson said. But while attracting new business—especially small businesses, versus franchises that send much of their money out of the city and even the state, she said—it’s not that easy. “A business wants to come to a city that’s fiscally sound, that has law enforcement that’s working at optimum levels—in terms of personnel, equipment and response time. Can we provide that? No. We cannot say, ‘Rest assured.’”
Finding new revenue sources, particularly when it comes to funding the Oroville Police Department, is on the top of Goodson’s to-do list, and she says she already has ideas, though she wasn’t ready to divulge them. “We need to keep our OPD—I’m not in favor of outsourcing,” she said.
As vice mayor, she’s already shown she’s a go-getter when it comes to identifying solutions to similar problems. A case in point: Her neighborhood of Southside Oroville, which was annexed into the city in 2016—allowing Goodson to run for office—struggles with blight. Through research, Goodson discovered a program for disposing of abandoned vehicles that also provides funding for code enforcement. The outcome was a win-win.
She also sees opportunities to address the city’s homeless problem, much of which stems from a lack of affordable housing.
One of the things that strikes her is the local mantra of sorts that “Oroville has so much potential.” That’s not enough, Goodson says. Where others see potential, “I see the implementation,” she said.
“I want to help make Oroville the vibrant city that we so richly deserve.”
Savior of the El Rey
What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of 2016, the future of the El Rey Theatre was uncertain. Owner Eric Hart was looking to sell the historic downtown Chico building, and word spread that there were potential suitors with plans to cover up the iconic murals inside and transform the El Rey from a theater into a commercial/residential space.
Those plans didn’t pan out. Hart did sell the El Rey last year, but the new owners are repairing it, not gutting it.
“[We want to] restore the whole building, top to bottom,” said Tyrone Galgano, one of three investors who purchased the building in March 2017. “Our goal is to bring it back to the Majestic.”
That would be the Majestic Theatre, the name given to the original vaudeville theater built on the spot in 1905. A fire in 1946 destroyed much of the building’s interior, and after a complete renovation in 1948—including the painting of the large, fantastical murals inside—it reopened as the El Rey.
Since then, the theater has been a downtown social/cultural hub—for years as a movie theater and more recently as a live performance space managed by local concert promoter Jmax Productions. Galgano and his partners—San Luis Obispo restaurateurs/brothers Kyle and Hal Billingsley—will continue to operate the El Rey as a live-events space.
“We’re trying to be the premiere performance and event space in Chico,” said Galgano, who is managing operations. The 34-year-old has the experience. After graduating from Cal Poly—San Luis Obispo, Galgano opened his own concert production company, Collective Effort Events. He started putting on events in SLO, and expanded from there into producing a variety of EDM, hip-hop and rock shows all around California and Hawaii.
Galgano and company have already started hosting events at the El Rey, during what he’s called a “soft opening” period, teaming up with the Nor Cal-based Epic Productions to put on a handful of EDM shows.
But before they could start doing shows at the El Rey, the theater needed some major repairs. Time has not been kind to the old building, which is most evident in the extensive water damage to the murals due to leaks in the roof.
Over the course of six months, the new owners invested in significant repairs and improvements.
“We’ve worked in compliance with the city, fire and health inspectors to properly bring the building up to code and increased the overall safety by reinforcing the foundation and roof,” Galgano explained.
During a recent interview, Galgano stood on a rebuilt and expanded stage in front of a newly exposed floor-to-ceiling brick wall that had been hiding behind the movie screen and the facade of the wall behind it. The partners also have installed new sound and lighting systems and torn out most of the seating in the lower section of the theater in order to level the floor and create an expanded dancing area, increasing the building’s capacity from 600 to nearly 1,000.
Once renovations are complete (which Galgano predicts will be by the end of January), the El Rey will be opened up for additional types of events—anything from rock shows to film festivals—and for outside groups and promoters to rent.
In the long term, Galgano says they want to continue to improve and upgrade. There are plans for a restaurant and lounge in the lobby (possibly making a two-level space with a terrace cafe) to remain open even when there are no shows. And, with help from the community—including the El Rey Theatre Alliance that formed in 2016 to advocate for saving the theater—there’s hope that the water-damaged murals will be restored.
“We’ve received a lot of outreach from the community in how they can help,” Galgano said. “It’s my goal to keep El Rey a vibrant centerpiece for the community, and I know there are many others that share this sentiment with me.”
Giving kids a chance to succeed
Casey Taylor knows what can happen if someone just gives you a chance.
Raised in Paradise, as a teen she was rocked by the discovery that her father’s construction business had gone bankrupt as he battled drug addiction. The family lost its house her junior year of high school; Taylor and her sisters moved into other people’s homes, while her mom lived out of a garage. Her father, who “owed prominent community members all over town money,” would vanish and reappear, ultimately perishing when, “high on meth,” he wandered onto the Skyway and got hit by a car—driven by the father of the kids’ Little League coach, coming back from a birthday party.
“Totally traumatic,” Taylor recalled. “It was all over the front page of the paper. …
“Trying to become a professional in a community where your family has got a pretty bad reputation was tricky,” she continued. “Except that my mother was an absolute saint, who everyone in this community adored, and she would constantly tell me and my sisters, ‘You’re amazing—you can do anything.’”
Taylor went on to become principal, now superintendent, for Achieve Charter School of Paradise and a board member for the Rotary Club of Paradise, among other organizations. At Achieve, she’s spearheading an expansion, as the K-8 school will add a high school this fall, admitting ninth-graders.
“The premise for this [original charter] school and our high school is getting kids into a small environment where they’re known, regardless of what their background is, and getting them to believe in themselves,” she told the CN&R during an interview at her office. “It’s amazing what people can do when someone tells them they can.
“This town really took care of my sisters and [me], and I’m really committed to it and the kids who need a chance.”
Achieve got its first opportunity in 2005 with its K-8 charter approved by the Paradise Unified School District. PUSD denied last year’s application for a high school charter, so Achieve petitioned the Butte County Office of Education, which authorized the high school.
The K-8 campus, on Elliott Road behind St. Thomas More Catholic Church, cannot accommodate the high school; thus, Achieve will build a facility, able to accommodate up to 500 students, on 6 acres of Paradise Community Village property. The school is leasing the parcel, located on the south side of town off Clark Road.
During construction, Achieve Charter High School will occupy the Calvary Baptist Church campus, which was renovated by former tenant Champion Christian School. The church has classrooms and a gym—the latter allowing Achieve to move forward with California Interscholastic Federation-sanctioned athletics.
“In our search for a temporary facility, it just fell out of the sky,” Taylor said.
The high school will distinguish itself with curriculum focus. Achieve is creating two pathways: entrepreneurship or tech/information technology. “There are elements of both of those that all students will have that are integrated in all their subject areas,” Taylor explained.
Along with development, Taylor has been hiring faculty and staff, plus meeting with prospective students and parents. The next information night is Jan. 18; open enrollment ends Jan. 31; the lottery, for 120 spots, is Feb. 1.
“When people ask us to describe our organization in one word, we keep coming to ‘opportunity,’” Taylor said. “Starting a school from scratch is the biggest opportunity there could ever be.”
Three council seats up for grabs
In 2018, as far as Chico goes, the midterm election is kind of a big deal. That’s because three City Council seats are up for grabs, and all of them are held by conservatives: first-termers Andrew Coolidge and Reanette Fillmer and two-term Councilman Mark Sorensen, a former mayor.
That’s notable because, though the seven-member panel is technically nonpartisan, it currently comprises four politicians who lean right and three who lean left. Just one seat gained by the progressives would give that bloc the majority it lost in 2014 after a more than decade-long run. So, either way you slice it, a lot is at stake.
When it comes to the whom-to-watch aspect, then, we’re talking about the candidates.
Thus far, two of the three incumbents, Coolidge and Fillmer, have signaled they are seeking re-election. Coolidge said months ago that he intends to run, and he has already filed the forms that allow a candidate to start taking in campaign contributions. And Fillmer filed paperwork with the city indicating she intends to as well.
Their challengers, based on who’s filed a candidate intention statement, include Matt Gallaway, an architect; Heather Minton, an administrative assistant at International Markets Group; Jeremy Markley, a former president of the Chico State Democratic Club; and Richard Ober, a former Bidwell Park and Playground Commission member and current chair of the Torres Community Shelter board.
But as Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson told the CN&R by phone recently, that doesn’t mean they are officially candidates. Technically, none of the would-be campaigners is until he or she is certified following a nomination period that typically takes place between mid-July and August. That happens after the Butte County Elections Office creates the election calendar—typically in late May or June.
Presson has been with the city for about 18 years and has seen fluctuations in the number of candidates during each election cycle, ranging from a handful to as many as 14. This is the first year that she’s seen this amount of interest this far ahead of the election.
“It’s way early,” she told the CN&R.
The reason is fairly obvious—at least to those who’ve paid attention to the past couple of election cycles. Running for a council seat is more expensive than ever. Indeed, during his re-election bid in 2016, Sean Morgan, who’s now Chico’s mayor, raised more than $64,000. (That’s not including the tens of thousands of dollars a political action committee raised to help elect him.) So, people are getting a jump-start on the process by filing the documents that allow them to starting taking in contributions.
Presson stressed, however, that only time will tell how the final cast of candidates will shake out. Behind the scenes, there are certainly others contemplating a run.
“I know we’ve had people pick up paperwork, and we haven’t seen all of that back, so the numbers could grow, definitely,” she said.