Clear the sidewalks

Chico City Council moves forward on sit/lie ordinance

Tim Brennan poses a question to members of the Chico City Council.

Tim Brennan poses a question to members of the Chico City Council.

Photo By howard hardee

Councilwoman Mary Goloff was rolled in a wheelchair down the center aisle of the City Council chambers in the moments leading up to the panel’s regular meeting on Tuesday evening (Nov. 5), a dramatic entrance into what turned out to be an emotionally charged gathering.

Goloff had surgery last Monday and had planned to miss the meeting, but she rallied to take on one of the most controversial decisions city leaders voted on this year: the so-called civil-sidewalks ordinance.

Another surprise for some was learning that Councilwoman Ann Schwab would be able to deliberate on the issue. As a downtown business owner with a lease-hold interest in property in the area, she previously was unable to take part in discussions on that proposed municipal law.

But this was round two of deliberations on the civil-sidewalks ordinance (an initial draft was voted down in August), and the new draft law had been revised to encompass not only downtown, but also the rest of the city. That meant Schwab could participate. Another change in the revised municipal code—also called a sit/lie ordinance—eliminated a requirement that law-enforcement personnel issue warnings prior to citations.

In short, the ordinance would make it illegal to sit or lie in pedestrian paths of travel adjacent to commercial properties. The law is modeled on a similar one in Seattle, Wash., and is applicable only from the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., said City Attorney Lori Barker.

“That’s pretty much the standard for the sit/lie ordinances. They generally are intended to apply when businesses are open, for the purpose of ensuring that the sidewalks are free for passage by the pedestrians who are patronizing the businesses,” she explained.

Councilman Randall Stone interjected to say that those hours are typically set to make cities less susceptible to litigation, and Barker followed up by indicating that camping ordinances would be the way to address the vagrancy on public sidewalks during the hours not covered by the civil-sidewalks law.

Because nearly 40 citizens signed up to weigh in on the matter, each was allotted only a minute to speak, rather than the typical three minutes. However, many of those present were also there to discuss the armed security guards hired by a private-sector coalition of downtown business owners.

Chuck Greenwood, speaking for the Chico Peace Vigil, for example, pointed to the fact that a security guard in California may be as young as 18 years old, and licensing by the state Department of Consumer Affairs is issued after only eight hours of training. “Eighteen-year-olds trained for eight hours should not make life-and-death decisions,” he said.

Putting a face to the homeless community was Jennifer Stava, a college-educated woman who asked the city to work with those living on the streets. Stava said she’d made a mistake in life and lost everything. She’s been homeless for about a year. Her suggestion to the city was to remove the clutter—the bikes, trailers and animals—rather than the people on the sidewalks.

“I think the city should work with us,” she said. “There’s a lot of addiction out there. There are a lot of people who need help out there. There are a lot of people who need homes out there. I don’t have a home. We don’t have anywhere to go.”

Another member of the homeless community was James Moody, who lost a roof over his head when the rent on the residential motel he and his wife lived in skyrocketed. Moody wanted to know what would happen to him should he be arrested for sleeping on the streets because he has no other place to go. “What do you plan on doing with me?” he asked the council.

In one of the most disrespectful outbursts of the evening, Moody’s query was met with a couple of shouts from members of the gallery, including “Take a hike!” Minutes later, Goloff spoke up about that snide comment and asked Gruendl to remind the audience to keep things civil.

Among the supporters of the ordinance was Chico Tea Party member Sue Hubbard, who didn’t mince words. She said there was no reason to be homeless in America today, because there are myriad services available for the needy. “So why do we still have street people? My answer is because we make it too easy for them. We actually enable this behavior,” she said.

Hubbard was followed by Doug Guillon, owner of Crush restaurant and a spokesman for the R-Town Downtown Coalition, the group behind the downtown armed guards. Guillon said private security was needed due to vandalism, and that it should be a short-term effort. He was the target of an outburst as well, which prompted Gruendl to again call for a certain level of decorum.

One of the final speakers was Redding homeless advocate Chris Solberg. He said the sit/lie law is challengeable because Chico doesn’t have a day center—nor are there enough beds—to accommodate the local homeless population. Two months ago, a similar law was shot down in Redding, he said. (Solberg and downtown business owner Wayne Cook very nearly had a physical confrontation after a vote on the ordinance.)

In the end, Council members Tami Ritter and Stone—who both cited the failure of the Seattle law the Chico ordinance is based on—were the dissenters in a 5-2 vote approving the ordinance.