Council takes up corporate personhood

Will serve as community forum on controversial issue

City Councilman Bob Evans wants the council to prioritize its budget goals, but so far he’s in the minority on the issue.

City Councilman Bob Evans wants the council to prioritize its budget goals, but so far he’s in the minority on the issue.

PHOTO by robert speer

Add the Chico City Council to the growing list of agencies that are taking up one of the most controversial issues in America today, the notion of corporate personhood.

It’s doing so at the request of Jon Luvaas, a former city planning commissioner, who in a Dec. 19, 2011, email to the council asked it to “consider a resolution, similar to that adopted by the City of Los Angeles and a growing number of other cities, urging the Congress to initiate an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end corporate personhood.”

Corporations, Luvaas writes, “have progressively acquired power and rights that vastly exceed those of natural human beings,” and “the inability or unwillingness of our national leaders to curtail abuse by major corporate powers has unleashed our current economic crisis.”

Speaking to the council, Luvaas insisted it was a local as well as national issue. Policies favorable to corporations have caused the budget crises local governments face, and besides “the only way to battle corporatism is for millions of people to speak up.”

Vice Mayor Jim Walker said he’d like to have a discussion and recommended that it be referred to the Internal Affairs Committee, which he chairs. “If we don’t do it here, where will it be done?” he asked.

Councilman Andy Holcombe agreed, stating that “one of the services we provide is to be a community forum.” It’s not costly to pass a simple resolution, he said.

He noted approvingly that the Chico Enterprise-Record, in its Jan. 9 editorial, expressed concern about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case allowing unlimited anonymous political donations as a form of free speech.

(He then chided the E-R for a subsequent editorial, on Jan. 14, suggesting that the city would be wasting staff time by taking up the issue of corporate personhood. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said.)

Mayor Ann Schwab moved to refer the matter to the IAC, with the assumption that it will eventually come to the full council. It passed, 5-2, with Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans dissenting.

City still in housing business: The biggest decision the panel made Tuesday night was to assume control of the housing assets, including a $62 million loan portfolio, and functions previously managed by the Chico Redevelopment Agency, which is scheduled to be dissolved on Feb. 1.

City Attorney Lori Barker said the city had three choices: take over the housing function, pass it on to the county housing authority, or let the state have it.

Nobody liked the last choice, and the second choice seemed less attractive when the executive director of the housing authority, Ed Mayer, advised that the city keep the housing function.

“I recommend that the city take control of its own destiny,” he told the council. Besides, city staff has expertise and experience with the housing function, he said.

The only uncertainty was whether there would be sufficient funding for administration of the program. That didn’t worry Holcombe, who was convinced the city should take on the responsibility regardless.

In the end, the council voted 6-1, with Sorensen dissenting, to take on the function but only after adding a line giving themselves the right to back out if it becomes too costly—a right they already had, Barker said.

Evans’ priorities to be aired: In their Dec. 20, 2011, meeting, council members considered a set of budget priorities Evans thought the council should adopt, but they decided to put off discussion until they had a better sense of the budgetary context.

On Tuesday City Manager Dave Burkland presented a timeline showing all the steps to be taken—by city staff, the Finance Committee and the council—before a budget can be adopted in June and said council meetings scheduled for Feb. 21 and March 20 were being set aside for budget discussions.

Evans’ priorities will be discussed then, but so far at least four of the council members seem to prefer not to limit their flexibility in this volatile budgetary environment.