Across the booze spectrum

City Council discusses two alcohol-related items in stark contrast to one another

Amanda Montgomery of Butte County Behavioral Health presenting on the health and public-safety issues related to underage and binge-drinking during the Jan. 7 Chico City Council meeting.

Amanda Montgomery of Butte County Behavioral Health presenting on the health and public-safety issues related to underage and binge-drinking during the Jan. 7 Chico City Council meeting.

PHOTO by Howard hardee

The two major considerations during the Chico City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 7) represented opposite extremes of Chico’s drinking culture.

The first was a proposed ordinance city officials touted as a tool for combating underage drinking and big house parties in neighborhoods with dense college-student populations. The second was a proposal that would allow the Bidwell Park Golf Course to sell alcoholic beverages, presumably to a distinctly different age group.

Assistant City Attorney Roger Wilson provided a staff report on the current draft of a social-host ordinance that would hold tenants, landlords and property owners financially responsible for “nuisance activities related to underage drinking” on private property. An individual cited for violating the social-host ordinance, Wilson explained, would bear the cost of police and fire department response, in addition to facing a fine—$250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third.

As currently drafted, the ordinance would subject property owners to such penalties only in cases where a written warning had been issued within the last year. Additionally, exceptions would be made for activities on private property regulated by the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC); constitutionally protected activities such as the use of alcohol in religious practices; somebody who calls 911 seeking medical or law-enforcement assistance for another person; and a person who calls law enforcement to terminate an event where minors are consuming alcohol, provided the person who calls “takes reasonable steps to stop the event,” as determined by police, Wilson said.

The item came before the council for discussion only, with a goal of providing city staff direction as they fine-tune the ordinance’s language.

Prior to the floor opening for public comment, Amanda Montgomery of Butte County Behavioral Health gave a 15-minute presentation highlighting the large, open-door house parties that “are the norm” in college neighborhoods and the associated nuisances, such as late-night noise, public intoxication, fights, vandalism and public urination.

“I’m very happy the council has looked at community policies to address underage drinking and binge drinking,” she said. “It’s critical for our community to have multiple tools and multiple policies to address these issues.”

The student population was not strongly represented, though Pleasant Valley High School senior Phoenix Lacque decried how easy it is for high-school students to infiltrate college house parties and gain access to alcohol, and Chico State student Claire Godwin condemned the “excessive, high-risk” drinking common at college gatherings that can lead to blacking out, alcohol poisoning and death.

Local landlord Bruce Nikolas was one of a handful of rental-property owners who weren’t happy about potentially being fined for parties they maintain are largely out of their control. “Why am I responsible for another adult’s actions?” he asked the council. “I can’t be their parent. I can’t be there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. I’ve got young kids; it’s unreasonable to put me in the position.”

After a lengthy discussion, Councilwoman Mary Goloff, citing a need for significant improvements to the fledgling measure, motioned to send the ordinance to the Internal Affairs Committee. Councilman Sean Morgan seconded, emphasizing the importance of crafting an ordinance that doesn’t “totally alienate property owners.”

The motion passed 6-1, with Councilwoman Ann Schwab dissenting and expressing disappointment that the council did not take more immediate action to adopt the ordinance.

Next up was the sale of alcohol at Bidwell Park Golf Course, which is managed by Rancho Murieta-based company Empire Golf. For many in attendance—including a posse of gray-haired golfers who showed up at the council chambers in support of the proposal—the issue was as simple as the desire to enjoy a beer on the links.

But for Schwab and others, alcohol sales and consumption in Upper Park is contrary to the wishes famously expressed by Annie Bidwell—wife of Chico founder John Bidwell and, during her lifetime, an activist in the Prohibitionist movement—who donated much of the land the park is composed of today.

However, the economic boon presented by alcohol sales revenue and a potential increase in golf-tournament activity appeared to sway the opinions of some council members. Rod Metzler, Empire Golf’s chief executive officer, said alcohol sales would increase the course’s revenue by $438,000 a year, money he said will be reinvested through maintenance and infrastructure improvements to the course.

With Schwab and Councilwoman Tami Ritter dissenting, the council voted 5-2 to allow the sale of alcohol at the course, a decision that delighted proponents and resulted in a good number of high-fives.

The alcohol license still needs ABC approval before being finalized.