City Council

Wahl protests sustainability cost

The longer Chico City Council meetings last, the more interesting—or, shall we say, dramatic—they tend to become. As councilmembers tire, discussions sometimes become, well, lively. That’s what happened at Tuesday’s meeting (Nov. 6).

Councilmembers spent much of their time in the lengthy process of selecting two new planning commissioners and nine people to serve on the General Plan Advisory Committee, so by the time they began discussing the Sustainability Task Force’s two-year work plan and request for funding, the meeting had been going on for nearly four hours.

Ordinarily the discussion of such a work plan isn’t controversial, but this agenda item also included a proposal to spend $30,000 to conduct a community-wide baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory.

In October 2006, when the previous council voted 4-3 to sign onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, supporters sold it as something that didn’t commit the city to any particular course of action or expenditure. At the time, conservatives on the council felt it was being “pushed down our throats,” as Councilman Steve Bertagna said Tuesday.

So he and Councilman Larry Wahl, who voted against the sign-on in 2006, were miffed that now, when the city was facing a budget crisis, they were being asked to dip into the general fund for 30 grand.

“We have a sustainability problem with money in our own community,” Wahl declaimed testily. “Do we really need a study to save money? Didn’t we set up the task force to do this kind of work?”

Vice-Mayor Ann Schwab, who chairs the STF, explained that one of the requirements of the agreement was that cities set an emissions reduction target of reducing GHGs 7 percent below 1990 levels. The inventory, she said, will tell the STF what those levels are so they can set their goals.

It would also position the city well for applying for grants to implement the action plan the task force will generate based on the analysis, Schwab said.

The analysis would be done by a Chico State graduate student working with paid interns. Similar studies have been done for the university and the city of Fort Bragg.

In the end, Bertagna came around. “I’ve been skeptical [about the climate change agreement] the whole time,” he said, “but there’s probably a great deal of value in having a baseline.”

Wahl remain adamant, however, and was the lone councilmember to vote against spending the money.

As mentioned, the council also made some important panel selections Tuesday. Kathy Barrett, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butte County (and member of the Arts Commission), and Tom Hayes, a retired senior planner for the city, were picked from 14 applicants to sit on the Planning Commission. They will serve out the one year left in the terms of Steve O’Bryan and Kirk Monfort, who resigned in consecutive months this fall.

Some 38 people were up for the General Plan Advisory Committee, but not all of them showed up as required Tuesday. Still, the council had to select nine members from more than 25 applicants.

Two were easy. Dave Kelley was the only applicant for the seat to be held by a sitting planning commissioner, and ditto David Kim for the seat to be held by a member of the Architectural Review Board. Both were confirmed unanimously.

That left seven seats meant for so-called “generalists.” After three rounds of balloting, the council had eight people who’d received majority votes, so there was a runoff among the five who tied with four votes each. Finally selected were Jim Owens, a retired Chico State professor and former mayor; Jim Stevens, a surveyor with North Star Engineering; Thomas Murphy, a high school teacher; Nancy Ostrom, a retired high school teacher; Scott Winter, a partner in LearningChange; Noel Carvalho, a planner and designer for Land Image; and Monfort, who has cited a desire to serve on the GPAC as one of his reasons for leaving the Planning Commission.

The fact that the GPAC had only one woman member didn’t sit well with at least two audience members. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Laurel Blankenship and Karen Laslo lambasted the council for having a “flawed process.”

“This group is going to decide the future of Chico for years to come, and to have only one woman on it is disgraceful,” Blankenship said.

Councilwoman Mary Flynn replied that she “was looking for the best candidates.” Laslo replied that some of the rejected women seemed “very well qualified.”

Councilman Scott Gruendl, attempting to defuse the situation, suggested that maybe the council could designate Ostrom to chair the committee.