Last Thursday, while Ann Schwab was fawning at Jerry Brown’s feet like a groupie at a Pearl Jam show, I attended a meeting of the City of Chico Sustainable Business Recognition Program, her program. This was an ad-hoc committee meeting, called with less than a week’s notice, and not noticed on the website. I have asked Ann Schwab’s personal assistant Linda Herman to put me on the mailing list, or I wouldn’t know anything.
When I arrived at 3:29 I found $taffer Herman chatting with county dump manager Steve Rodowick, along with another man whose name I do not know, but I think he’s the guy who once told me people don’t need refrigerators, not sure. We were there to hear what Ann Schwab had to report about her “Mayor’s Business Advisory Council” (see http://worldofjuanita.com/2012/10/31/what-could-the-mayor-find-to-talk-about-behind-closed-doors-with-pge-and-cal-water/ ).
Unfortunately for the rest of us, sitting in that smelly little room, giving up time from our lives, Ann had more important things to do – she had a date with governor Jerry Brown over at the campus, to stump for his “beleaguered tax increase”. Good job Ann – this is EXACTLY what’s WRONG WITH CALIFORNIA – when she’s supposed to be at her job, she’s out pandering to her captive student audience, telling them if they and their parents don’t vote Yes on 30, there will be more cuts and less classes. Aren’t you glad this woman is your mayor? I, for one, am glad my kids are NOT going to Chico State.
Sitting rejected in the smelly little room, we were joined shortly by New Urban developer Tom DiGiovanni, a long-time member of the STF who has recently made a proposal to council to privately develop city owned parking lots into high density “live-work units.” DiGiovanni has literally profited from “sustainability” – a few years ago he was actually allowed (and I presume, PAID) to write a “parallel code” for building in Chico – lowering city building standards to the level of high density “new urban,” with 23 foot wide streets and houses that share walls with their neighbors. That meant, New Urban Partners no longer had to go through the approval process for their sub-code developments, no more “onerous” public hearings about all the variances and exceptions the city makes to allow DiGiovanni to cram his sub-sized crappers onto their tiny little lots, turning people into sardines. The “parallel code” gives him “administrative approval,” damn the neighbors.
His proposal for Downtown would eliminate several high use parking lots and replace them with three to four story buildings that include retail on the bottom, offices on the second floors, and single-tenant apartments and studios on the upper floors. He has proposed such a project for the parking lot along the creek on First Street, and the creekside area known as “Lost Park.” He wants to put a privately owned building right up to the creek, but needs the city to clean up toxins on the property before he can develop it as residential. This conversation promises to be interesting, but right now, it’s happening largely behind closed doors, out of the public ear.
A view of the creekside promenade envisioned as part of New Urban Builders’ proposed East First Street project
DiGiovanni was the principal force behind remodeling city plaza – he was paid to do the design, having suggested the project in the first place. At that time he was using an office directly across the street, and remarked that he hated looking down on the “ugly” plaza.
DiGiovanni was also a principal force behind the current Downtown makeover – intending to build on those high-use parking lots, he knew he’d have to do something to provide more parking elsewhere downtown. Thus the move to lateral parking, something that was tried in Chico years ago and happily abandoned. DiGiovanni also wants to build on the lot that currently houses the Saturday Farmer’s Market, but you see how that went over with the market lemmings. You don’t want to mess with that crowd – even the happy hat lady will go up your ass over that.
So, DiGiovanni has been with the STF since it’s inception, lasting out even der gross Mann. He knows a good thing, like a shoat hangs onto a teat.
At Thursday’s meeting, Linda reported for Ann, that Ann has not been able to generate much interest in her “sustainable business program.” She presented it to her “Mayor’s Business Advisory Council” – members include PG&E, Cal Water, Chico Unified School District, Chico Bag, Transfer Flow, and Norfield Industries.
In fact, Transfer Flow, a Chico firm that retrofits trucks to be compliant with AB32, wrote a letter to the effect that they thought the mayor was overstepping her boundaries. Transfer Flow CEO Lisa Johnson says, in a letter to the city council,
“Recently I had the opportunity to review and respond to Mayor Schwab in regards to the proposed Chico Sustainable Business Recognition Program (CSBP). I feel that my comments in regards to the request for feedback should be shared to all members of the city council. The intent of this letter is to request that the city council not approve this program.”
Poor Ann – this must have felt like a sock in the back. I’m wondering if Johnson didn’t trust Ann to relay her feelings. I know, I for one, have sat in those meetings for a couple of years now, and whenever I’ve been asked for feedback, I’ve said that while I am all over sustainability and am a total groupie of the planet Earth, I don’t think the city has any business administering and using taxpayer funds on a program that is of obvious benefit to a handful of insiders at an onerous cost to the rest of the community. I repeated myself again the other day when Herman again asked for my input. But I have yet to read my own remarks on any reports or hear them repeated at any council meeting. Schwab and her friends are so eager to shove this program through the process they are flat ignoring any criticism of their activities. Linda Herman asked me what I thought, I didn’t raise my hand, I was just sitting there taking notes. But when I told her my answer, she didn’t move to write it down. She just grunted and sat there with an increasing look of anxiety on her pretty little face.
The only one to respond to me, although he turned away from me as he spoke, was DiGiovanni. He’s a quiet man, tries not to offend because he has so much to lose. But in past, when I’ve questioned his activities, he’s called me “paranoid” and “delusional” in letters to the editor. He called David Little and tried to get him to stop printing my letters, and I’m guessing he’s had similar conversations with Robert Speer. He hates being questioned, and I could tell he was very tense, and very careful, in responding to my remarks last Thursday.
Earlier in the meeting, when they were discussing similar objections on the part of Councilman Bob Evans, DiGiovanni argued the importance of having such a program, and that such a program have some sort of verification process, some kind of regulation in order to “avoid the ‘greenwash’ label.” DiGiovanni wants a program with inspectors to verify that the businesses participating are actually doing what they say they’re doing – like holding ‘sustainability workshops” for their employees, and providing tuition for employees who want to take “classes on sustainability issues”.
And he wants the city to administer this program. And pay for it, using our $taff and our tax money. He doesn’t see the problem there.
He certainly didn’t see any problem when the city of Chico bailed him out at Merriam Park with $7 million in RDA money. Merriam Park sat vacant, and New Urban Partners teetered at the brink of bankruptcy for the better part of a year. But Ann Schwab saved DiGiovanni’s ass by giving a Fresno developer $7 million of RDA money to buy the low-income portion of Merriam Park. That money went in turn to Tom DiGiovanni and New Urban Partners.
And now they’re placing the new Butte County Courthouse on his property? I haven’t been able to get the information on that, but it stinks of insider privilege.
I’m not the only one who has problems with this program folks – a member of Schwab’s own “Mayor’s Business Advisory Council,” a business that wouldn’t exist if not for environmental regulation, has said Schwab’s committee is overstepping it’s boundaries. “The City of Chico should not be taking part in managing businesses in any manner. Awarding businesses that can participate but [not] those that can’t afford to participate is wrong. ” (I placed “not” in that paragraph because I believe it was an overlooked typo – it doesn’t make sense otherwise.) Furthermore she states, “Supportive but not legislative should be the role that city government plays. A business friendly city/community should not drive such a fiscally onerous program …”
Johnson seems to feel as I do – only certain people are benefiting from this program, but we all pay for it. In this economy, we can’t afford charity for rich people.
We need to dump Schwab, and her policies.