Chamber and the DCBA sponsor council candidate forum
A candidates’ forum for the Chico City Council race was both predictable and educational, as widely known contenders mixed it up with first-timers at the CARD Center last Friday, Sept. 14.
Hosted by the Chico Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chico Business Association, the forum featured 10 of the 11 candidates running for the four seats, including incumbents Mayor Ann Schwab and Bob Evans.
Candidates were given two minutes for opening statements and then asked three questions before a minute-and-a-half closing statement.
Andrew Coolidge, a public-relations business owner and purveyor of local home and garden shows, said he wants his young children to have a future here. The city, he said, is at a crossroads, with one path leading to continued overreaching business regulations and a council that does not regularly review the city’s budget. The other path would be “a business-friendly environment so businesses don’t leave town, fire stations are not closed, and street projects are done for the entire community, not just special interests.”
Dave Donnan, a realtor, said he served in the military and came to Chico 30 years ago to open a recycling facility and raise a family. He mentioned the city’s dwindling emergency reserves, unfunded city employee pensions, an increasingly dangerous downtown, and a current council majority that concerns itself with “corporate personhood, plastic bags and purple bikeways.”
Incumbent Evans, who was appointed to the council two years ago, said that Donnan had taken half of his opening statement and that the city is indeed facing a serious debt problem.
“It’s a revenue problem, and the state is no longer our friend,” he said. “Our last best chance is to support local businesses. We are on our own.”
Dave Kelley, an architect and eight-year member of the city Planning Commission, stressed the importance of that experience, particularly in light of his work on the city’s 2030 general plan. He said he is running for two reasons: to bring some moderation to the politically divided City Council; and to focus the council’s attention on the economy and creating jobs.
Sean Morgan, a business instructor at Chico State, said he’s lived in Chico since he was 4 years old, has an MBA from Chico State, and is also a business owner.
“The most important job is to understand the community,” he said, adding that he fears future generations are going to leave the area. “We need to fix the budget and identify high-value issues,” he said. “No more feel-good initiatives that waste staff time.”
Tami Ritter has served as the executive director of the Torres Community Shelter and Habitat for Humanity and currently is an educator for the Family Violence Education Program. She pointed to her experience as a director and organizer for the past 15 years, including balancing multimillion-dollar budgets.
“People are more cooperative and productive when those in authority do things with them,” she said, as opposed to telling them what to do. She said she didn’t decide to run until after she became a parent.
Kimberly Rudisill served on the council from 1994 to 1998 under the name Kimberly King. She said her four children, ages 12, 10, 6 and 7 months at the beginning of her term, are now adults. Her three sons chose to serve in the military, she said, something of which she is quite proud. Her daughter attended Chico State and works in town. Rudisill said she’s taught at-risk children in Colusa County, been in Chico for 32 years and is “one of the only [Oakland] A’s fans in town.”
She said she would work to protect the city’s police and fire departments. “Chico has been a great place to raise a family and still can be,” she said.
Toby Schindelbeck is a 34-year-old business owner and bodybuilder who first came to Chico from Southern California in 2006 for a cousin’s wedding. He and his wife were so impressed that they went back home, sold everything they had and moved to Paradise four months later. They moved to Chico in 2011.
“Chico is the best place in the state, and possibly the country, to live,” he said. However, he warned, crime is increasing and businesses are moving away because there are no incentives to stay. He suggested waiving developer fees and property taxes, building up the police and fire departments and cutting “the bureaucratic fat.”
Mayor Ann Schwab, who was elected in 2004, told the audience that during her time on the council she’s been “devoted to being financially responsible and keeping [the financial] recovery on track.”
She said she regularly meets with business owners and is among those who “established Chico as an environmental leader.” She serves as the program manager for the Chico State CAVE program. She also owns Campus Bicycles with her husband, Budd, which, she said, gives her an understanding that small businesses are important.
Randall Stone introduced himself as a financial planner and self-employed business owner who came to Chico in 1995. He and his brother, Gregg, recently completed the construction of a 38-unit low-income apartment complex in Chico, one of the city’s last RDA projects. He played down the negative pictures some of the other candidates had painted in their opening statements.
“I don’t believe there is a crisis,” he said. “We are not in such a steep decline that people don’t want to stay.”
The questions included what to do about crime and homelessness. Coolidge said the area of Fifth Street and Broadway by Jack in the Box had become a problem and that the police need tools to do their job. He also said there are fewer families attending the Thursday Night Market, because people are afraid to come downtown.
Donnan said more police officers are needed to “move those people along and signal ‘You’re not welcome here.’ They’ll start finding somewhere else to live.”
Evans said the homeless include both the mentally ill and the “professional homeless with their big backpacks and big dogs on a leash. We need to deal with them and let them know Chico is not for them.”
Kelly said the city needs more police officers walking the beat. Candidate Morgan agreed and added that the downtown needs misdemeanor transient laws. Ritter said she’s heard from the police that the homeless are more often crime victims and that issuing tickets to people with no money would be a futile effort at best.
Rudisill said she doesn’t think the homeless problem is as bad as perceived and that the city needs federal and state assistance to help the homeless. Schindelbeck said economic growth would enable the city to hire more police and that the homeless should be offered “a hot meal, fresh clothes, a shave and a bus ticket to send them back home.”
Schwab called the problem complex. She acknowledged that downtown shoppers are uncomfortable and greater police presence is needed. She said business owners and the public must come together for a solution.
Stone said not all the homeless are criminals and that mental-health issues must be addressed by the police when dealing with that segment of society.
The forum lasted about an hour and a half, and the candidates’ closing statements pretty much echoed their opening declarations.
Candidate Lisa Duarte was unable to take part because of a time conflict with her job.