Road Trips, Desert Irrigation, ‘Doom Loops’, and More Tehama Brown Act Violations

Oceanside Harbor

It might be a long way to Tipperary, but it feels like a longer way to Oceanside in San Diego County. My baby sister lives there and Google says it’s 633 miles from my house to hers. I have to leave Manton super early to miss the rush hour traffic in LA, but it seems like it’s always rush hour on “the” 5 or “the” 405. You can always tell a SoCal person by the way they add “the” before a highway. What’s up with that?

I hadn’t seen my sister Carolyn since before Covid, so it was great to wrap my arms around her, her wonderful husband Wilhelm, and my new 4-legged nephew Charlie. I also had a business conference in Anaheim, so I got to see that family, too. Lots of fun, good food, beach vistas, and camaraderie.

Anaheim Convention Center

French fries ON the falafel – genius

I noticed a couple of things on that long drive. First, there appears to be an entire cult of people who drive slow in the fast lane. Seemingly oblivious to all the cars passing them on the right, they chug along at 55-65 mph. I’m no speed demon, but this practice is dangerous and frustrating. Oh, and illegal, too. There are other traffic-related complaints I could file, but most of them occur up here, too. We all have our pet peeves, don’t we?

Another thing I noticed was the continued proliferation of orchards in places where the uncultivated vegetation was desert flora. Along I-5 and south of the delta towns of Patterson and Los Banos, the hills are dry dirt and there is tumbleweed, sagebrush, and chaparral growing along the roadsides. It looks like Nevada.

Orchard in the desert

How are they growing nuts and citrus? By pumping water out of the ground, of course. Or by having surface water delivered from elsewhere. Like from here? The Sierra? Who knows? Many orchards were dead or dying from lack of water, while adjacent orchards were lush and thriving. I am not familiar with how water deals work, but trees are not supposed to grow in the desert, except in oases.

Of course there were signs blaming Governor Newsom for the lack of water, but some looked like they had just painted over Jerry Brown’s name. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the fact remains that you can’t grow certain crops in places where it doesn’t rain once in a while.

Photo courtesy California Water Impact

We’ve all heard how some of the aquifers down there have been overdrafted and subsidence has caused the less porous layers to compress and become impermeable. They cannot be replenished anymore. Sad.

We would do well to learn from the mistakes others have made. This wonderfully wet winter gives us a little breathing room to plan responsibly for the future. We have abundant surface water this year, but the aquifers won’t be replenished by this year’s rain. That would take decades of winters like this one. The Groundwater Commission should already be working on amendments for the Sustainability Plans they submitted to the state, because they will almost certainly be rejected. Stay tuned.

After my visit to The Land of Filth and Money, I turned around, got right back in the car, and spent last weekend in Paradise for Gold Nugget Days. The week-long event celebrates the discovery of a 54-pound gold nugget found just north of town in 1859. A gold nugget of that size could solve a lot of problems, couldn’t it?

The Dogtown Nugget – courtesy americanlandmarks.org

It was my first visit to Paradise since the Camp Fire destroyed the town and left 85 people dead more than four years ago. Dozens of our friends and family members lost their homes and many survivors relocated to Tehama County. We welcome all of them with open arms!

Paradise looks very different now, of course. Where there used to be trees there are now sweeping vistas. That happened here in Manton, too, after the Ponderosa Fire in 2012. Driving up Forward Rd., you could suddenly see way down Battle Creek Canyon and over to Hwy 36E. Silver linings among the ashes. We’ll take ‘em.

There is a buzz of construction as people rebuild their homes and lives. Apparently there was not much rhyme or reason as to how people were reimbursed by their insurance companies and the PG&E payments have been all over the place. There are folks who have been in their lovely new homes for a couple of years and others who have just started to receive funds to rebuild or move on. Neighborhoods are a patchwork quilt of new homes popping up among chain link fenced parcels with nothing but a cement slab to identify them as former residences.

Paradisians were jubilant to see old friends and neighbors. The hugs were long and sincere – like they never wanted to let go. Survivors of such enormous tragedy share a special bond. Gold Nugget Days is something that bridges Before to Now and unites them as a community. A great reminder that all communities are made up of people, not buildings and trees.

I spent Friday and Saturday nights in Chico at the home of my longtime BFFs Kathy and Lynette. We worked together at LaSalles in downtown Chico in the mid-80s, when it was a yuppified fern bar and restaurant. Kathy went on to create and coach the Women’s Golf Program and Team at Chico State and Lynette teaches art at Diablo College a few days a week.

They bought a beautiful home together in the Chico Avenues decades ago, fixing up a mother-in-law unit in back for Kathy while Lynette lives in the main house. I hadn’t seen either of them since before Covid, so having this time to catch up was fantastic. They are both brilliant and we pretty much solved all the world’s problems in a few hours.

Downtown Chico, on the other hand, is looking downright shabby these days. It was always appealing, bustling and thriving, but now appears to be in a sharp decline – like the “doom loop” we keep reading about in San Francisco. Empty storefronts are rampant – even the four “anchor” spots on the corners of 2nd and Main Streets. The 7-Eleven on the corner of 1st and Main is closed with a chain link fence around it – shocking. There is an air of seediness and danger – what happened?

Photo courtesy officespace.com


A perfect storm of challenges from many directions hit the town, that’s what. 10,000 people showed up overnight after fleeing the Camp Fire. Traffic became insane. Covid closed the University and many businesses couldn’t survive. The homeless situation is at crisis level. Mental health resources are stretched thin. Without a variety of cute shops and the proliferation of online retail, shoppers just aren’t as likely to spend an afternoon browsing. There is an argument that the downtown landlords, most of whom don’t live in Chico, are charging too much for rent. How much is a storefront worth when it is surrounded by empty ones? Who is going to risk the time and money to open a new place in the middle of a downward spiral?

There are many factors at play, but Lynette pointed out one that hadn’t occurred to me. When the bottom fell out of the traditional cannabis market, those friendly hill folk didn’t have buckets of cash to spread around every fall. I can personally vouch for the increase in spending at Wild Oak every October and November. Time to rethink Tehama County’s ordinance which is still depriving a path to legitimacy for an entire industry and its many spin-offs in manufacturing, testing, packaging, etc…What do you say, supervisors?

Photo by Sam Harnett – KQED.org

And speaking of our supervisors, all five of them made a big booboo and you can throw the Chief Administrator, the Clerk, and especially County Counsel on that pile. The error was made with good intentions, not to circumvent transparency. But a Brown Act violation occurred anyway. Just so you know – I was listening and I didn’t catch it either.

Tehama County Administration Building – redbluffdailynews.com

At the meeting of April 4, District 4 Supervisor Matt Hansen had a topic for the Board Matters portion of the meeting. Board Matters is when supes suggest topics to be included on future agendas. No action can be taken on anything discussed.

Hansen wanted the board to send a letter of opposition to AB1168 – Google if you’re curious. Unfortunately, the board was not going to meet again until after the deadline for submitting letters for that phase of the bill’s passage, so there was unanimous “consensus” that they send the letter anyway, even though it had not been written yet.

County Counsel erroneously said they could approve it as an agenda item at the next meeting, so off it went with the mail carrier. The content of the letter is unimportant – it’s the fact that they took action without public comment or a vote that violates the Brown Act. Then, and I swear I‘m not making this up, the vote to approve failed on the 18th. Oopsie.

Look – there are a lot of newbies on this board and innocent mistakes will happen. Only one supe has even served a full 4-year term. The Brown Act is confusing – apparently even to County Counsel who absolutely should have known. The board will revisit this topic Tuesday. Stay tuned.

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Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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