A new federal study finds when it comes to binge drinking Chico is the worst city in the entire state

5 Dec

Chico has a substance abuse problem. 


“Former Chico Mayor Mary Flynn was arrested for driving under the influence, following a minor accident in Chico Sunday, December 3rd.

The 61 year old Flynn  was taken into custody at about 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Safeway Store on Mangrove Avenue on a misdemeanor count of  DUI Drugs & Alcohol.
Officers at the scene said no one was injured in the accident, and it wasn’t clear whether Flynn was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
She was arrested while serving on the city council in 2008, after her car hit the Great Harvest Bread Company building on Forest Avenue.
Flynn was found to be under the influence of prescription drugs, and over the counter cold medicine and cough syrup..
She pleaded guilty in October of 2009 to a reduced charge of reckless driving while under the influence of prescription drugs.
she also took a leave of absence from the council in 2014 for treatment of a dependency on prescription medications.
Flynn  served on the Chico City Council from 2006 to December of 2014 .”

The first thing that occurred to me when I saw this story was, my family shops at that Safeway, my kids shop there. We ride our bikes all through that neighborhood. We’ve seen Flynn there. I can’t help but fear for my life when I hear about this type of incident.

And then of course it all came back to me, Flynn’s long history with substance abuse – despite which, she was re-elected for a second term. 

You have to ask yourself – what kind of smack are the voters on?

When Flynn (also known by her married name, Goloff) was mayor, she was among community leaders who signed this open letter to the public:


This “call for community action” begins, “Our community has a serious alcohol problem. News accounts document this on almost a daily basis. It affects countless lives, and
tragically accounts for a number of deaths, year after year.”

It goes on, “It is not simply a fraternity problem, or a university problem, or a
south campus problem. It is a community-wide problem that will require
all of us to solve. “

The letter is also signed by then-vice-mayor Scott Gruendl, and Brian Nakamura, who was our city manager for a short time during 2012-13, so I assume this letter was written and distributed in 2013. 

In 2014, both Flynn and Gruendl announced they’d been in treatment for substance abuse and would not seek further terms. Gruendl had been released from his job with Glenn County. 

The “call for action” lists various actions that should be taken to confront our community drinking problem. 

“We need to confront the availability and low cost of drinks
at downtown bars; the advertising and bar guides that promote cheap and
excessive drinking; the lack of consequences for landlords who permit out of
control parties; the impression that some businesses turn a deaf ear to safety
concerns; the enforcement of public drinking laws; our approaches to
alcohol and drug education; the low number of Friday classes and the
amount of work assigned in all classes; and many other topics, however
difficult they may seem.”

The city entered into shaky legal ground at this point, then-police-chief Trostle advocating an alcohol tax, which amounted to a shakedown of Downtown restaurants. The discussion was halted when the city attorney announced it was illegal. The city had backroom meetings with some bar and restaurant owners and ended up giving up sidewalk to these establishments in order to get them to agree to certain stipulations – no drinks after certain hours, food has to be served, etc. 

Let me ask you – which would you rather be stuck with? A rich drunk or a poor drunk? 

Then the  city passed what I believe to be an onerous and hard to enforce “social host” ordinance that supposedly makes landlords responsible for “response costs” of police and fire to an out-of-control party. Problem was, the police are supposed to notify landlords after the first infraction, before they can levy the fee. That leaves the problem of finding out who is the property owner, notice them within a reasonable amount of time before you can cite them for another party. 

I have not had a chance to ask Chief O’Brien how many landlords have been cited and how much in fees has been collected, but I haven’t seen anything about it in the budget reports, I’m going to guess it’s impractically expensive and time consuming to go after landlords until their rental becomes a terrific problem. 

The ABC has always done stings to make sure local liquor stores take the law seriously, and almost every year they come up with some violations. I know they educate liquor establishments, but I don’t know how effective that’s been. 

I don’t know what the college has done about educating the kids, but almost every year we’ve had alcohol related deaths of students, riotous behavior Downtown on the weekends immediately following start of school, and now this  – I found the following story on the KHSL Action News website, run less than a month ago:


“A new federal study finds when it comes to binge drinking Chico is the worst city in the entire state. That is according to Financial News Company 24/7 Wall Street.

They reviewed data from the CDC on the binge drinking habits in metro areas in each state.

They found that in Chico, about 21% of adults take part in heavy drinking.That number is higher than the state average of 18%.

They have also found that over 34% of the driving deaths in Chico are alcohol related.

According to Randall Stone from the Chico City Council, “With a statistically much younger population, and 17,000 of the 93-thousand population in fact not even counting in those, are undergraduates in college in an only CSU system with a residential campus, I’m not only surprised by it, but so what.” Stone went on to say that in the past 5 years Chico State has been making great strides in reducing alcohol consumption by students, and credits the new administration that’s more willing to work with the city.”

I don’t know if I agree with Stone that the college has been doing anything, but I will agree, it’s not just college students, it’s “21% of adults” – the colleges only bring in about 35,000 kids, and they don’t all live in Chico proper. We can’t assume they all drink either. So, I’d say, it’s a safe bet, a lot of our drinking problem is with the population at large.

I’ve often wondered as I’ve driven on the freeway at morning or evening Rush Hour – how many of these people are on drugs, prescription or otherwise? How many have already had a few alcoholic drinks today? 

We re-elect people who have known problems. Here’s something that should make you  very concerned – Mary Flynn got a job at a charter school here in Chico and Scott Gruendl is currently assistant director of San Mateo Health Services, in the mental health department.

Even after their substance abuse history, and even after Gruendl’s partner Nicholas Gruendl filed in Butte County Superior Court for a restraining order for domestic violence. He filed for divorce a week or two later.

We are a community of enablers. In the story posted at the KHSL website, there are several disparaging comments about Flynn’s latest arrest, and then former Butte County district attorney’s office employee Helen Harberts makes this comment:

“I am saddened. This disease is characterized by relapse. Hopefully a good outcome will occur. DUI is never acceptable. Working recovery is the business of a lifetime. Substance abuse is an equal opportunity disease. It impacts all groups. If you think you may need help, don’t wait. Get help. “

Another woman praises Harberts for making a nice comment. “Helen what a great reply! No hating no BS people are so mean & crude on these comments you are a pleasant surprise!”

First of all, there was nothing crude about the previous comments, they were all very reasonable reactions to the situation. Second, Helen Harberts was a co-worker and enabler of this man:


With people like this in public positions in our community is it any wonder we have these problems? 

4 Responses to “A new federal study finds when it comes to binge drinking Chico is the worst city in the entire state”

  1. Jim December 6, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    The problem is that nobody chooses Chico State for it’s academic reputation, they come to drink. The college accepts almost anyone with a pulse and the money. Tighten up the entrance requirements and the situation will improve.

    • Juanita Sumner December 6, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

      Thanks Jim l agree. I’d like to see both colleges raise their expectations for behavior too, kick out students who get in trouble.

  2. JB December 9, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

    I believe CSUC provides classes in “remedial” mathematics & English (grammar & composition [In the student’s Native Tongue!]). I have long contended that any institution of higher learning that provides remedial classes in any subject isn’ta college. “Junior College” maybe. If a prospective student cannot qualify on entrance exams (if they still have these), they should be rejected. This nonsense started in the 1960’s, as universities realized a whole lot of government cash could be acquired easily by admitting & propping up unqualified individuals. Grade inflation has followed, further reducing the value of a “college” degree. Per the season, Bah! Humbug!

    • Juanita Sumner December 10, 2017 at 5:59 am #

      Thanks JB, good point.

      As an alumnus of Chico State, I was experienced teachers who were not fit to teach, had got senile, or just lazy. I had one teacher who read his lectures off a printed sheet, and gave the same exact lecture 3 times. He also liked to tell stories about himself, at length. I had another teacher who had been in a car accident and had brain damage, but was not let go because of tenure. She was totally nuts – abusive. I had another teacher who threatened us constantly with a “letter in our file,” and made us carry her stuff to her car and do other inappropriate tasks for her. Whenever I told outsiders where I went to school I was reminded what a bad reputation Chico had/has, not just as a party school, but as a dumping ground for people who couldn’t get in any other school. A few years after I graduated, the Liberal Studies program was put on probation and almost lost accreditation.

      And everybody who has a school age kid should know this – Chico schools are and have always been heavily staffed with CSUC graduates.

      Butte’s a wash too – they seem to think their football program is the most important program on campus, they’ll hire any hack to teach a class. My son’s math teacher was the accountant who took Chico Natural Foods out of business. They had a local journalist teaching English – one day I saw him walking Downtown, so drunk he almost fell off the curb. He spends so much time standing in front of Duffy’s, they ought to hand him a sign with the daily drink specials.

      And that’s where I’ll get back on topic. It’s not just the college. While some of the kids who come here might already have bad habits, they don’t all come here with drinking problems at 18. Bringing young people, out of their parents’ home for the first time, into a culture of partying and drinking is dangerous.

      Here’s a story – my husband and I were at Costco one day, and who should we see coming out of the store with a cart full of giant booze bottles, but then-president Manual Esteban, his wife at his side. He had only been here about a year, but everybody knew him, and when we greeted him he gave us a big, embarrassed smile. I’d never seen bottles that big before, all kinds of name-brand booze, HARD LIQUOR. I should have asked him about it, but we were so shocked, we just let him walk right by.

      Go to any party – go to a fund raiser for any charity – and there will be booze. A lot of organizations are doing wine tasting fund raisers these days.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with booze, but Chico drinks a lot of it. When I went to a envelope stuffing party for one of Maureek Kirk’s city council campaigns, Karen Laslo and Emily Alma invited me to join their “Wild Women’s Club,” which they described as a bar hop. Lazlo turned to Alma and told her how much fun it would be to get me drunk.

      I sat at Grana having dinner with my husband one night, and watched two longtime local political wags down a giant bottle of wine between themselves, no dinner.

      Chico is run by boozers, the college is run by boozers, what example do these people set up for the kids? I won’t blame it all on the colleges, it’s a cultural problem here.

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