And in the end

For his last meeting as a Chico City Councilmember, Rick Keene may have lost the moustache he’s worn for most of the last 24 years, but he continued to maintain his stubborn conservative presence, choosing not to go gently into that good night. In an all-day meeting the council visited a number of sticky issues, dispatched some with action and just made a lot of noise on others.

Councilmembers, led by Keene, voted to start setting aside up to $500,000 a year to help fund new neighborhood parks, which have taken their place on the back burner of city policy because not enough money is being collected in developer fees to fully fund any of them. But there is a big catch. Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan noted that city policy calls for an emergency reserve that represents 20 percent of its general fund, which is approximately $28 million. That equates to about $5.6 million for the reserve. Currently the city has about $2.7 million in the reserve, which means it still needs another $2.9 million before any money goes to new parks. But before that happens, the city must meet other general fund obligations, which is going to be made even more difficult when the state comes around raiding local governments to fix its own budget. Councilmember Coleen Jarvis accused Keene of trying to get credit for doing something for neighborhood parks before he sets out for Sacramento. She noted that certain councilmembers had tried to do something to secure money to establish the parks but met with resistance from the conservative council majority. “Now at the last minute you are trying to pull something here.” She labeled that something as little more than “false promises.” Nguyen-Tan echoed Jarvis’ skepticism, called the plan a “do-no-harm policy” and accused Keene of “making promises with money we don’t have.” Councilmember Steve Bertagna, however, remained incredibly optimistic and said a vote for the policy means “you are committed to putting in new parks.”

The council took no action on local building remodeler expert Wayne Cook‘s attempt to purchase the old City Municipal Building that sits vacant on the corner of Fifth and Main, even though Cook warned this was the city’s last chance to make a deal. He was not interested in leasing the building, even for 50 years, and then remodeling it, he told City Manager Tom Lando. The council also failed to vote for a $10,000 building appraisal and instead agreed to create a committee to explore other possible uses and seek out anyone who may be interested in fixing up the old gray structure. But the building just a block south, the Senator Theater, did get some council action, as owner Eric Hart was awarded a loan of about $320,000 to restore the marquee, paint the exterior, fix the heating and air conditioning and the leaky roof and replace the tower, which was taken down in a state of disrepair a few years ago. (The city will pick up any cost of replacing the tower that exceeds $100,000.) The council also voted to grant the Right Now Foundation $200,000 to buy just the movie theater part of the building. This, the city made clear, was all the money it was going to put into the old building as it has no desire to become the operator of a theater should the RNF fail. An earlier attempt by Hart to secure a loan to fix the building failed when it was learned a loan from the city’s redevelopment fund requires that workers be paid prevailing wage. That requirement has been skirted because the city set up a new pot of money referred to as Historic Rehabilitation Funds. For the record, we hope this works out well for those RNF folks.

In other action, the council granted three Chico State sociology professors $3,000 to crunch data from 800 surveys handed out Halloween night to downtown visitors. The survey asked questions like, "Do you think this year there is more law enforcement or less law enforcement?”, "How much money have you spent in Chico today?" and "How would you rate police services? Excellent, Good, No Opinion, Fair or Poor?" The data, they said, would help the city spend more efficiently for next year’s October bash. Speaking of Halloween, I’ve learned that on that night highway signs were installed along Interstate 5 and Highway 505 blinking the message to passing motorists that "Chico is closed for Halloween."