On the mayor’s overreaction, homeless criminalization and the upcoming election

Note to members of the public: Do not invoke dialog from The Big Lebowski during Chico City Council meetings. The Dude’s language is forbidden in the chambers.

Count me among the handful of Chico political junkies who was at home watching the drama unfold from the comfort of my couch. After seeing Mark Herrera get handcuffed and ejected from the panel’s regular meeting (last Tuesday, May 15) for throwing shade at Chico First—calling an unspecified leader of that group a “human paraquat”—the first thing I did was text CN&R reporter Ashiah Scharaga to see if she’d gotten a photo of that going down.

Actually, first I Googled “human paraquat.” I hadn’t seen The Big Lebowski in ages, and that phrase, the equivalent of calling someone a buzzkill, was not in my lexicon. Next, I had a chuckle. Only then did I text Ashiah. She didn’t get a photo—because she was pretty much in a state of shock.

I was perplexed myself. I mean, Herrera didn’t curse. He wasn’t yelling. Mayor Sean Morgan charging that “human paraquat” rises to a personal attack (again, directed at no one person) is a weaksauce argument. The members of Chico First, sitting directly behind the podium, couldn’t contain their laughter. Of course, we later learned that Herrera was tanked—over twice the legal limit for DUI. Still, had Morgan not blown things out of proportion, we’d never have known that. Herrera would have finished his remaining 30 seconds of speaking time, and he would have gone home instead of spending the night in jail.

In response to criticism, Morgan took to his public Facebook page to post a link to yet another movie, The Breakfast Club, in a ham-fisted effort to imply that the rules apply to everyone. I’d suggest a little introspection on that front. As I’ve chronicled in this column, Morgan and Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer have used some pretty coarse language at the dais—the F-bomb and S-bomb, respectively. They never got tossed out as a result.

The showdown between Morgan and Herrera took up most of the air in the room. But there are bigger issues afoot. Afterward, the council majority voted to agendize Councilman Andrew Coolidge’s request to discuss a bunch of potential ordinances under the banner of “Chico Safe Now.” Among them is a proposal to bring back the sit-lie ordinance. You know, one of the laws that spurred the Department of Housing and Urban Development to cut its funding allocation to Butte County.

Recodifying that ordinance is something Chico First has been asking for. But here’s the thing: Members of that group are largely newcomers to local government proceedings—most don’t have historical knowledge, including on this and other punitive laws that have been ineffective and detrimental to efforts to mitigate homelessness. However, Coolidge can’t claim ignorance, so his efforts are particularly disturbing.

Election ahead. This week’s issue highlights the local races on the primary ballot (the contested ones, anyway) and the congressional contest. On this page, you’ll find our endorsements. Whether you agree with us or not, we urge you to head to the polls on June 5—keep democracy thriving.