CHICO — Chico City Council heard criticism of responding to city homelessness and approving commercial cannabis licensing, while finalizing where to put large amounts of money Tuesday.
Funds and housing
The council had to approve the city’s 2021-2022 budget as proposed May 18.
City Manager Mark Orme said “this budget is public safety focused” as over 70% of the general fund is spent on Chico Police Department and Chico Fire Department — with Chico police using about 48% of the fund — while acknowledging the need for infrastructure improvements. He reiterated the city’s focus on “law and order … to determine those who are bad eggs and those who are good eggs.”
The third capital phase of reconstructing a taxiway at Chico Municipal Airport is approved for takeoff, as is a list of funded projects to submit to the California Transportation Commission.
Housing Manager Marie Demers said the plan using federal community development block grants for affordable housing allocates $282,933 to Chico Housing Action Team for families. And, $167,285 is for program administration, so the council unanimously approved amending the project to be only for housing families and clarifying that administration fees will only be used to fund Chico Housing Action Team staff time.
The council approved by 6-1, with Denlay against, proposed local improvements under the Sustainable Solutions Turnkey agreement with PG&E. Public Works Operations and Maintenance Director Erik Gustafson said these projects would total $11,037,887, will save the city $637,953 in annual costs and offset 80% of facilities and electrical needs.
City Attorney Vince Ewing presented a draft Community Benefit Agreement for commercial cannabis businesses, on how these businesses have been licensed in other cities.
The slow process toward licensing, after the pause in applications the council approved in December, was criticized. Current business applicant David Petersen says at this point, even if the process for applying begins tomorrow, it will take many more steps to get into the business community. It could take a year and half from now to open doors even if the council say “go” tonight, he says.
Other speakers also requested the council finally give a clear path forward for the process toward commercial cannabis business licenses.
Councilor Kasey Reynolds moved to approve the community benefit agreement draft Ewing presented and open the application process. Councilor Sean Morgan tried to oppose saying “there is no community benefit” and moved to open to three business licenses with directing money to a community benefit fund. It passed 4-3 with Morgan, Mayor Andrew Coolidge and Denlay against.
— Natalie Hanson (@nhanson_reports) June 2, 2021
Councilor Scott Huber called for discussing rescinding the Sit/Lie ordinance, which was last discussed and kept on the books in February 2020.
The lack of a public report on the case against the city pending a second hearing in federal court June 11, prompted protest from advocates Thursday. Those protests were brought to the chambers Tuesday, as the Warren et. al v. Chico et. al case on homelessness was discussed in closed session.
The council was also criticized by a letter from McNeill Law Offices on behalf of Chico Stewards of Parks and Waterways distributed by Rob Berry, calling the city manager and city attorney incompetent and “ready to roll over and try to give them (advocates) – the magic ‘cure to homelessness.’” The letter threatened litigation if the city does not begin “relocating” camps currently in city parks immediately to another city-owned site.
Morgan questioned if the organization had spoken to the federal judge who issued the temporary restraining order, rather than the city. He said “warehousing” unhoused people in parks has never been an agenda of the “council majority that took office December 2020.”
“Am I the only one that takes the judge seriously?” Morgan wrote. “Who is Walter McNeill? Where does he get his information? Is he from Chico?”
He added the item would be discussed in closed session — “I realize this is aggravating and has the effect of it looking like we’re doing nothing, however, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Huber responded, “If I am interpreting this correctly Mr. McNeill is saying what I have been saying all along — failing to provide unhoused people with an alternative to camping in our parks when evicting them was not only morally wrong, it was strategically ignorant.
“Providing a sanctioned outside shelter should have happened long before COVID-19, in which case unhoused people would not have to have been ‘warehoused’ in city parks.”
The PAC Stand Up For Chico also called for the council to renew the citywide shelter crisis declaration Tuesday, following the example of other cities like Sacramento.
Huber’s request failed in a 2-5 vote.
June 4 is the deadline for the city to give the federal judge a proposal ahead of the June 11 hearing in Eastern District Court. At press time there was no public action available from closed session.
The council conducted interviews to select members on the Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board, Airport Commission and Climate Action Commission. Appointments to these boards need to be finalized June 15.
Wendy Porter, regional director for Employer Engagement for Far North Community Colleges, presented the NorCalCyber Mayor’s Cup to Coolidge, after Coolidge honored Chico High School for a regional award in the NorCalCyber cybersecurity competition. Instructor Jonathon Andrew said it was his first time leading the team and he was grateful the students adapted to competing virtually in April.