Benefits and beer

Council talks taprooms and executive compensation

On Tuesday, the Chico City Council voted to approve so-called “manufacturer taprooms,” like the one Secret Trail Brewing Co. is opening.

On Tuesday, the Chico City Council voted to approve so-called “manufacturer taprooms,” like the one Secret Trail Brewing Co. is opening.

Photo by Michelle Camy

The Chico City Council got right down to business on Tuesday (Oct. 3), busting through its regular agenda in about an hour.

The panel took action on:


At the request of new craft beer company Secret Trail Brewing, the council unanimously approved an amendment to Title 19—the city’s land use and development regulations—allowing taprooms that make small batches of beer, mead or hard cider to serve alcohol without offering food. Currently, the code limits the consumption of alcoholic beverages produced at such facilities to small tastings.

Secret Trail’s owners requested the land-use amendment rather than pursuing a rezone of their property on Meyers Street, according to a city staff report. The Planning Commission considered the matter on Sept. 7 and recommended making the change, and the council did so without discussion from the dais or public comment from the floor.

“There’s nothing contentious on this one,” said Mayor Sean Morgan.

With the vote, the council created a new land-use category called “manufacturer taproom,” which will be allowed in several industrial and commercial zoning districts throughout the city.

Executive salaries

In an effort to reduce the city’s pension liability, the council tweaked the contracts of several department heads to have them pick up their portion of FICA-Medicare payments and share the cost of CalPERS. In return, most executives got somewhere between a 2 percent and 3 percent bump in salary—and more, in the cases of City Clerk Deborah Presson and Brendan Ottoboni, director of public works-engineering.

City Manager Mark Orme justified the move by noting that the average department head’s salary was around $150,000 when he took the city’s top post in 2014, but now it’s around $135,000.

In 2011, Presson took a 5 percent pay cut as part of the citywide effort to rein in spending during the Great Recession. She received a 5.26 percent raise on Tuesday, boosting her annual salary to $144,000. Ottoboni received a 2 percent cost-of-living increase on top of the salary/benefits swap, bumping his annual salary to $138,000. The city’s two highest-earning officials—Orme ($207,500 annual salary) and Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin ($185,000)—opted for deferred compensation matches, meaning they can set aside a percentage of their pre-tax salary and get paid later.

The other department heads accepted the swap, including Administrative Services Director Scott Dowell ($132,900), Police Chief Michael O’Brien ($154,700), Deputy Director of Finance Barbara Martin ($117,500) and Erik Gustafson, public works director-operations and maintenance ($135,400).

Councilwoman Ann Schwab said she supported the raise for Presson, but requested that the length of her severance pay agreement be reduced from a year to nine months—which would be in line with other executive-level employees—but the council’s conservative majority made no such move. The panel approved the salary adjustments by a 4-to-3 vote down party lines.

Councilman Randall Stone told the CN&R he voted “no” because of the city’s looming pension crisis and a long-term trend of lackluster sales and property tax revenues. He likened the salary adjustment to “shifting chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. We’re aware of the hole in the side of the ship, but choosing to do nothing about it.”

Business expansion

At an appraised market value of $322,000, the council unanimously approved the sale of 4.39 acres of undeveloped land at Chico Municipal Airport to Fifth Sun LLC, a company that specializes in producing licensed and private-label apparel for large retailers. Owner Dan Gonzales plans on expanding Fifth Sun’s manufacturing division by building a 27,000-square-foot building adjacent to the business’ current headquarters.

According to a city staff report, the facility will be up and running by June, employing between 50 and 75 people.