Move the Junkyard levels accusation, City Council approves bright-yellow building downtown
City Councilman Andrew Coolidge came under fire for his ties to Chico Scrap Metal during the council meeting on Tuesday (June 7). And he, in turn, dressed down city employees.
The exchanges came during yet another council discussion of CSM, the controversial recycling business some people believe should move from its current location on East 20th Street near Chapman Elementary School. As the CN&R previously reported, two ordinances adopted by the city on May 17 that allowed CSM to stay put were written using an excerpt of text from an outdated version of city code. That means the laws are invalid.
It was a regrettable mistake, said Mark Wolfe, the city’s community development director. “I’d like to apologize to the council, the Planning Commission and the community.”
The council voted 7-0 to rescind the ordinances and start the procedural process over. It likely will take a couple of months to revise the documents, recirculate a negative environmental declaration and appear before the Planning Commission, Wolfe said.
“What does that do to a referendum?” Coolidge asked, referencing the citizen-led group Move the Junkyard’s effort to take the matter to Chico voters on Nov. 8.
City Clerk Debbie Presson replied that the referendum would “fall outside our election schedule” because Aug. 10 is the last date to qualify for the November ballot. As such, if the referendum moves forward, it’s likely the city will hold a special election. Coolidge asked how much that would cost the city.
“The last special election cost $150,000,” Presson said.
Shortly thereafter, local environmental attorney Richard Harriman leveled his sights on Coolidge while speaking on behalf of Move the Junkyard. He objected to Coolidge’s participation based “on the unique circumstances of his relationship with the applicant.” In 2010, Coolidge worked as a public relations consultant for a political action committee, Citizens for Economic Balance, which was backed by George Scott, the owner of CSM. That group supported Lance Daniel, a Sacramento-based attorney, as he attempted (and failed) to unseat Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey—who’d previously filed environmental charges against the recycler.
“There’s a constitutional violation of due process, because the public is entitled to an unbiased hearing,” Harriman said. “I just think it’s absolutely unacceptable for him to sit in on this action.”
Kim Scott, an owner and operator of CSM and daughter of George Scott, came to bat for Coolidge.
“Mr. Coolidge has never worked for Chico Scrap Metal—ever,” she said. “It’s very frustrating to see lies come out. All of you should be adults.”
For his part, Coolidge didn’t recuse himself, and rather admonished “the city staff’s utter failure to catch this monumental error.” The money the city might spend on a special election could have helped move the recycling business, he said. “I don’t think we can take enough steps to ensure this never, ever happens again.”
Earlier in the meeting, the council discussed a particularly bright color—“digital yellow”—and how it might look on the façade of a downtown building.
The building in question is the vacant one on Main Street, between Third and Fourth streets, previously occupied by The Underground record store and the Towne Lounge. On the same block as Duffy’s Tavern and Lost on Main, the space is currently being renovated to become Chico Children’s Museum.
In recent years, it’s become an eyesore. The alcove out front attracted homeless people until the owner, Alan Tochterman, blocked it with a chain-link fence.
It’s also been months since Tochterman first came before the Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board with an artist’s rendering of the proposed façade. The board determined that the color scheme was too bold, and that buildings downtown should be more reserved. Then came a lengthy and expensive bureaucratic entanglement across multiple meetings.
“Almost $5,000 was spent in order for me to be lectured by members of the board, who are the experts on color,” he told the council.
Tochterman appealed the decision to the council. Councilwoman Ann Schwab recused herself due a conflict of interest—owning Campus Bicycles across the street—and the panel voted 6-0 in favor of the appeal, thereby allowing Chico Children’s Museum to be bright yellow.