Change of mind

A resident’s journey into activism gives the editor a new viewpoint

About two months ago, the Chico City Council was supposed to hear an appeal of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission’s decision to issue Orchard Church a permit to use City Plaza for its homeless-outreach program—the Sunday-evening gathering the group had held at that location for more than five years.

But that appeal never happened. The night before the meeting, Jim Culp, pastor of the church, made a deal with the city to hold the gatherings elsewhere—near the “Our Hands” sculptures on the east side of the Chico Municipal Center. He could do so without a permit and the related fees, which would have amounted to about $3,000 per year.

Of course, that decision made the appeal moot. The public never had a chance to weigh in on the issue. Those who showed up to speak about it watched, along with me, the whole flap come to an anticlimactic conclusion. We heard the city manager give a brief summation of how the church had withdrawn its application. We listened as Culp gave a diplomatic speech about how the church was still committed to helping people get a second chance. We heard nary a word from the dais.

I wrote about that decision in a news story, and in an editorial I said that Culp had taken the high road by accepting the compromise. I pointed out that the church had been operating without any complaints from the public and had been unfairly singled out. But, like most other people, I moved on to other things in the news cycle.

One person who didn’t move on was CN&R reader Patrick Newman. See, Newman had been in the gallery during that meeting, with a prepared statement in hand. He wanted to point out that the program had done great good. He wanted to tell the council how unfair it was to further marginalize a group of vulnerable folks at the behest of a few deep-pocketed residents.

And Newman is on a crusade to make that known. You can read about his journey from that council meeting to his activism at the corner of Fifth and Main streets in this week’s CN&R cover feature, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Between his letters to the editor and some email correspondence, I asked Newman, whom I’d never met, if he had any interest in writing an essay on the subject. He’d gotten my attention. Moreover, he’d changed my mind: The compromise was not a win-win; it mostly benefited a small interest group of wealthy property owners.

I understand why Jim Culp made a deal to move his church’s outreach program. He had a lot to lose. Still, I wish he would’ve let it all play out in the City Council chambers. I think that could have been a turning point for Chico—and for our elected officials—on where we want to go as a city when it comes to the destitute among us.

The only watershed moment, it seems, happened for Patrick Newman.

Melissa Daugherty is editor of the CN&R