All or nothing
Military banner proposal falls flat before City Council as supporters refuse to compromise
Arguments boiled over as the Chico City Council considered a proposal to display banners honoring local active-duty military personnel on street light poles.
The meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 7) reached a climax when the enraged mother of a military serviceman left the council chambers shrieking, “Shame on you! My son is representing you assholes!”
On Aug. 19 the council considered a proposal from nonprofit organization Chico Military Heroes that would have displayed 500 banners year-round along major thoroughfares including East and First avenues.
Some felt the banners would be a fitting tribute to members of the military, while others maintained that displaying them on public property would glorify war and encourage high school students to enlist. The council punted the request to the Internal Affairs Committee, which on Sept. 10 recommended a compromise in which the banners would fly for 30 days, coinciding with Veterans Day or Memorial Day, and only along a limited stretch of East Avenue. The committee also rejected a request to waive a city fee of $2,100.
During the council meeting on Oct. 7, however, a compromise was not forthcoming.
“If we’re not going to put these banners up for the year, then we shouldn’t fly flags on Veterans Day or Memorial Day,” said Mark Page, whose son recently graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. “I don’t understand why you would even consider doing this for 30 days. We’re going to say ‘you’re a hero’ for just a little bit?”
Chris Nicodemus, representing Chico Military Heroes, said the proposed 30-day display period wouldn’t justify the cost of installing and removing the banners. “Thirty days is not going to work for this program,” he said.
Councilman Sean Morgan motioned to keep the specifications outlined by the Internal Affairs Committee, except that the banners would be on display for a full year. Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen seconded, but the motion failed 2-5, with only Morgan and Sorensen voting in favor.
Councilwoman Ann Schwab then motioned to adopt the Internal Affairs Committee’s exact recommendation. Sorensen voiced his disapproval, characterizing Schwab’s motion as “a cowardly method of killing the program.” Without a second, the motion died on the floor.
Mayor Scott Gruendl subsequently made a motion somewhere in between, proposing that the banners fly for 90 days under a three-year agreement. That motion also failed 2-5, with Gruendl and Councilwoman Mary Goloff in favor, and the banner proposal fell apart entirely.
The council also moved forward with a new law that would hold alarm companies, rather than users, responsible for false alarms that prompt police response. The law, which still requires a second reading and final adoption, would be the first of its kind in California.
Chico police responded to 3,200 false alarms in 2012. In an effort to address that inefficiency, on June 15 police stopped responding to “unconfirmed automated alarms”—an automated alarm triggered but not confirmed as a real emergency by a security guard or camera.
The new policy has effectively reduced the burden on police, Lt. Mike O’Brien told the council, and “criminals have not run wild,” but feedback has indicated “the city wanted a different way.”
Police maintain that holding alarm companies accountable would create an incentive for self-regulation, while the city would stop “subsidizing a private industry with our police officer and dispatch staff time.”
Under the proposed ordinance, alarm companies would be fined $100 for the first false alarm, $200 for a second offense and $300 for any subsequent offenses.
Several alarm company representatives spoke against the proposal, and it’s easy to see why—if this law gains momentum in California, it could have huge financial implications for the industry. The city is already facing potential litigation from alarm industry groups, which City Attorney Vince Ewing said he would review before the ordinance’s second reading.
Council members also requested future review if the 3,200 false alarm figure is not reduced by half in two years.