Compromise prevails

Orchard Church to use city property for food giveaways, fellowship

Volunteers organized by Chico’s Orchard Church serve dinner during a recent gathering outside of the Chico Municipal Center.

Volunteers organized by Chico’s Orchard Church serve dinner during a recent gathering outside of the Chico Municipal Center.

Photo By melissa daugherty

One of the most controversial items on the City Council’s agenda came to an anticlimactic end Tuesday evening (Nov. 19), but there were still fireworks during the panel’s regular meeting.

Starting with the former, Orchard Church Pastor Jim Culp stuck it out through the meeting despite having already come to a compromise with the city regarding his congregation’s longstanding community-outreach efforts, gatherings that include providing meals and fellowship to those in need.

During a break in the meeting, Culp explained he’d been working with city staff for several weeks, and that on Monday evening, Nov. 18—the night before the council meeting—the church had come to an agreement with the city. That eleventh-hour deal calls for the gatherings to move across the street from the City Plaza to the Chico Municipal Center near the sculptures known as “Our Hands.” Meeting at that location precludes the need for a city permit and allows the church more flexibility with the get-togethers.

“The city recognizes our freedom to assemble any time business hours are closed,” Culp said.

Orchard Church had been holding the gatherings Sunday evenings at City Plaza for more than five years, but the outreach became controversial in recent weeks as the community’s concern over problems associated with the local homeless and transient population reached fever-pitch. The ministry got caught in the backlash from businesspeople and others who charge that the folks the church serves were keeping patrons away from downtown. Some said the church’s outreach was drawing homeless people to the region.

Despite jumping through various hoops, such as getting a permit from the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission and a special food-preparation certification from the Butte County Health Department, the church faced eviction from the plaza on the grounds of an appeal of its permit by downtown business owner Wayne Cook, owner of Hotel Diamond.

In his appeal, among other reasons listed, Cook noted the larger-than-normal congregation of transients, saying the church’s gathering added to the problem. “Another magnet is precisely what isn’t currently needed,” he wrote.

The compromise reached this week is not a contract, said Culp, but rather an understanding that the church has the freedom to assemble there.

When the item was scheduled to come up for discussion, City Manager Brian Nakamura explained that Orchard Church had withdrawn its application for a permit and therefore Cook’s appeal was moot.

Culp spoke later in the evening, during the business-from-the-floor period, and thanked the council and city staff for helping the church come to a resolution with the city. He noted that it was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. “I’m grateful that we’ve been given the right—the liberty—to champion this essential message: that all men and women are created equal—black and white, rich and poor, those with and without addresses.

“We are a church that is committed to a nation, and a city that pursues hope. Hope is second chances, fresh starts, restored lives,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting also included the second reading of the city’s so-called civil-sidewalks ordinance—also known as the “sit/lie” law. That agenda item was pulled from the consent agenda by Councilwoman Tami Ritter, who noted that there have been significant improvements in the atmosphere downtown since the reintroduction of two bicycle officers in the region. Four members of the public spoke about the law, with two opposed and the other two in favor.

James Moody, a homeless man who had spoken during the ordinance’s introduction, asked the panel some tough questions when it came to the law: “What are you going to do with me?” he asked. “I’m a poor, old man who has bad health.”

Moody said he has been in Chico since 1981, and lost his home about six months ago after losing his job.

After the conclusion of the discussion, the council voted 4-2 in favor of the ordinance. Ritter and Councilman Randall Stone dissented. Councilwoman Mary Goloff was absent.

Later, Stone was criticized for outing a Chico Police officer he says harbors racist views.

Peter Durfee, president of the Chico Police Officers’ Association, came out swinging, pointing to Stone’s recent allegations that the officer had posted racist content on Facebook. Going public with the allegations, Durfee said, violated the due-process rights of the officer, Todd Boothe; marginalized an entire association; and unjustly tainted every sworn police officer in the city of Chico.

“Whatever our disagreements or personal differences may be, this was unprofessional, unexpected and unacceptable. This association protects your streets, your families and the city,” he said.

Durfee went on to ask that Stone be removed from the Chico Police Department Community Advisory Board, that he recuse himself from any business that involves the CPOA and its members, and that he give a public apology to Boothe, his family and the members of the CPOA.

As is normal during business-from-the-floor discussion, neither Stone nor the other council members commented on what was said. The CPD’s administrative investigation into the officer’s conduct is ongoing.