City looks for party-pooper tool

The city of Chico has a problem: There is a certain group of people—visitors and residents—who at times drink too much alcohol and, with the resulting noxious behavior, attract a disproportionate amount of police attention, leaving the rest of the city underserved.

Even with the recent dousing of the city’s infamous Halloween festivities, these people, who for the most part live (or visit) on the west side of town near the Chico State University campus, create havoc from mid-August through Labor Day.

And this year, the alcohol-fueled behavior in that four- to five-week period was as bad as it’s ever been, said City Manager Tom Lando, and resulted in $250,000 of overtime pay for the Chico Police Department. While this might be good for the cops and their families, it doesn’t bode so well for the city budget or the rest of the city residents, who too often must settle their problems without police intervention.

At its meeting Nov. 2, the City Council discussed the matter, and possible remedies, including publishing the names of those arrested for alcohol-related offenses. One problem with this approach is that not everyone who gets arrested is guilty. Publication of the names could lead to libel suits against the city and any newspaper that bought into the plan.

This sticking point was brought up by Councilman Dan Nguyen-Tan, and Lando agreed, saying it may be more prudent to publish only the names of those convicted of alcohol-triggered offenses.

Councilman Scott Gruendl noted that students had not been contacted about the issue, other than by on-duty police officers. “This is the one piece that seems to be missing,” he said.

Councilman Steve Bertagna said it was unfair to tar the entire student population with the same brush, noting, “There is a small percentage that just don’t get it.”

When the matter was opened to public discussion, Charlie Pruesser, a long-time defender of student rights, asked the council to define the word “student” and then asked why they were being singled out here. “What about the young people who choose not to go to college?” he asked.

But local architect Nan Jones, who lives among students ("we call it the ghetto,” she said), said students are definitely the source of the problem. “If there is one student rental in the area, a whole bunch of people’s lives are made miserable,” she said.

Councilmember Bertagna agreed it was a problem but added that it didn’t much matter who was responsible.

Jones said people were moving out of the area because of the situation. “There seems to be a lot of pandering [to the students] going on here,” she added.

Councilman Dan Herbert objected, saying to brand the students that way was no different than stereotyping “all of a certain race.”

Jones wasn’t convinced. “Then tell me how come in the summer [the bad behavior] ends?” she asked. “And around Thanksgiving, it’s great.”

Gruendl said it may help to call the property owners of the house at which the bad behavior is occurring. He also said it was important to get more information to the students or whoever is stirring things up to let them know such behavior will not be tolerated.

The matter will come back to the council for more discussion at a future meeting.