A short, productive meeting

Council quickly takes care of business

At their meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1, Chico City Council members voted to ban couches on front porches, approve solar power at the golf course, support a crackdown on speeders in the Canyon Oaks subdivision, recommit themselves to following the Ralph M. Brown Act, and take action against proposed local water rate hikes. They also approved a budget modification that nearly eliminates the city’s general fund deficit.

All this in an hour and a half—“a record” for brevity, as Mayor Mark Sorensen said. Here’s a rundown:

Burning couches: The council unanimously approved an ordinance banning front-porch couches at the behest of the Chico Fire Department. Last year the department responded to 124 fires set in stuffed furniture or mattresses dragged into the street, reported Division Chief Bill Hack. Such “reckless” fires are dangerous because of the potent toxins produced when they are burned.

For many of these items, their penultimate location is a front porch, which is why the ordinance targets furniture that is visible and accessible from the street. Most such fires occur in the student neighborhoods, Hack noted.

Steve Depa, representing the North Valley Property Owners Association, said the city needed to establish a collection method for the furniture similar to the “drop-and-dash” event that provides a way for college students to get rid of unwanted furniture.

Hack said his department first would focus on education to make sure residents know about the new ordinance. Citations will be issued only after citizens have been warned that they are in violation.

Solar at the golf course: Bidwell Park Golf Course wants to install a 2,500-square-foot solar array on-site and needed council approval to do so. The array, which would be used to power irrigation pumps, would generate approximately $1.8 million in energy savings over 25 years from an initial investment of $390,000. There would be no cost to the city.

A concerned Councilwoman Ann Schwab pointed out that the staff report said the array “would not be seen from the main road in Bidwell Park,” an inadequate criterion, in her view. She noted that a similar criterion was used to allow houses on the park’s south rim that can be seen from several other vantage points.

Rod Metzler, representing Empire Golf, which manages the course, said the site of the array is an untended area about 30 feet lower than its surroundings. “It can’t be seen from anywhere,” he said.

The panel approved the array 4-2, with Schwab and Councilwoman Tami Ritter dissenting and Councilman Andrew Coolidge recusing himself. “This is all going too fast,” Schwab said.

Water party: California Water Service Co. is seeking California Public Utilities Commission approval of a plan to merge its Northern California clients into a single “northern region.” City Attorney Vince Ewing is worried, and not just about rate hikes of 20 percent or more. He’s concerned the company wants to use revenue generated in Chico to pay for infrastructure improvements in other communities, such as Willows.

Ewing asked the council to approve a motion making it a “party of interest” in the proceedings before the CPUC. The council voted unanimously to do so, but also to have Ewing explore other possible ways to intervene.

Canyon speeders: It seems some residents of the gated Canyon Oaks subdivision are taking advantage of the fact that its private streets aren’t patrolled. They’re speeding and running stop signs, said Darren Bevan, an attorney representing the association. “We’re very good with controlling landscaping and paint colors, but not with law enforcement,” he acknowledged.

The council voted unanimously to support the association’s plan to contract with the CHP to patrol the neighborhood.

“We’ll behave”: In response to a cease-and-desist letter from local activist Jessica Allen (see “Taking the council to task,” Downstroke, Nov. 26), council members unanimously agreed to follow their attorney’s advice and “unconditionally commit” themselves to the Ralph M. Brown Act, while not agreeing with Allen’s charge that they violated it on several occasions.

Budget nearly balanced: In the feel-good news of the day, City Manager Mark Orme said that, thanks to prudent practices, the city now could afford to transfer nearly $4 million from the general fund to its deficit fund, thereby bringing the deficit to just $518,716. And, because the council earlier approved a budget that included an additional $900,000 transfer, the deficit—once in the millions of dollars—will be erased by the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year. He warned, though, that the city still had no reserves and needed to continue being fiscally conservative.