Battle lines being drawn

New City Council majority shows it means business

Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson swears in newly elected Councilmembers Andrew Coolidge (left) and Reanette Fillmer and newly re-elected Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen. The council subsequently selected Sorensen to be mayor.

Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson swears in newly elected Councilmembers Andrew Coolidge (left) and Reanette Fillmer and newly re-elected Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen. The council subsequently selected Sorensen to be mayor.

Photo by Robert speer

It didn’t take long for the four members of the Chico City Council’s new conservative majority to flex their muscles at their initial meeting, on Tuesday (Dec. 2).

First they joined their three remaining liberal colleagues in unanimously selecting re-elected Mark Sorensen to be Chico’s mayor for two years.

Newly elected Reanette Fillmer then nominated Sean Morgan to take Sorensen’s place as vice mayor. Ann Schwab then nominated Tami Ritter, who like Morgan is two years into a four-year term.

The vice mayor is called upon to lead council meetings when the mayor is absent, but otherwise has few duties. The position’s most important feature is political: It’s seen as the most significant stepping stone to the mayorship.

Schwab urged her conservative colleagues to support Ritter in the same spirit of bipartisanship that liberal council members had shown 16 months earlier when they were in the majority and had supported a conservative (Sorensen) to be vice mayor.

Schwab was wasting her breath. Fillmer joined Sorensen, Morgan and her fellow newbie, Andrew Coolidge, in casting four votes for Morgan.

The selection of a new mayor and vice mayor was the culmination of ceremonies honoring outgoing Councilwoman Mary Goloff and Mayor Scott Gruendl, followed by the swearing-in of Coolidge, Fillmer and Sorensen, who were elected on Nov. 4. Their families, friends and other supporters filled council chambers to overflowing and applauded boisterously when they were sworn in.

The reorganized council had one bit of significant business to do during its first meeting: consider whether to approve a new master plan for Caper Acres, the popular children’s playground in Lower Bidwell Park.

Caper Acres was last remodeled in the mid-1990s and is showing signs of wear and tear and has safety issues, explained Dan Efseaff, the city’s parks and natural resources manager. The plan, prepared by the Melton Design Group after consultation with many members of the public, including kids, envisions a number of major changes.

The group’s owner, Greg Melton, explained that the Crooked House will be replaced by two similar houses joined by a rope-lined cable bridge. The tunnels, which are hard to keep clean and are deteriorating, will be replaced by a climbing area modeled after Monkey Face Rock in Upper Park. In back of this new feature will be “Robin Hood’s Lair,” accessible via two zip lines.

Some council members were concerned about the costs—of both the remodel (a projected $3.1 million) and the plan itself ($20,000). Efseaff said the plan will pay off when the city uses it to leverage grants and donations. He noted that the city was able to attract $1 million in state funding because of its similar plan for a small park and bike bridge on Comanche Creek.

The remodel will be financed by a fundraising campaign, not city funds, Efseaff said, adding that he thought people would step forward to rebuild a playground that is such an integral part of life in Chico. The changes to the site are on an “à la carte menu,” he explained, meaning they will be done only as money is available.

That didn’t appease local dentist Michael Jones, a regular attendee of council meetings. He noted that the cost was 31 times as great as the $100,000 spent on the 1995 remodel. It seems “absurdly high,” he said.

The council approved the plan, 6-0, with Schwab recusing herself because she lives within 500 feet of Caper Acres.

In other council news, the panel voted 4-3, along conservative-liberal lines, to agendize a request by the owners of Chico Scrap Metal to receive another extension of their deadline (Dec. 31) for moving out of their current East 20th Street location. The company, which was found to have polluted the ground at the site, initially was given five years to move, then later received a three-year extension of that deadline. Sorensen said the council would try to squeeze the request into an already full Dec. 16 meeting.