Council welcomes massive SUVs

The Chico City Council made it official this week: SUVs weighing more than three tons are welcome on any city road. At least they will be after the next council meeting, when the matter will be placed on the consent agenda and passed as a matter of routine.

Back in September city officials were alerted that the antiquated city municipal code set a 6,000-pound vehicle limit on all non-truck routes in town, which accounts for about 80 percent of the city’s streets.

In recent years Americans, including locals, have gone gaga for mega-sized SUVs. But nobody noticed the weights of these beasts were—on paper at least—more than our street surfaces could handle. That is until someone caught wind of the unfortunate conundrum and the city had to react.

Fritz McKinley, director of public works, said in a memo that while there seems to be a trend “to purchase larger, heavier vehicles, lighter vehicles are also gaining popularity.” In other words, the lighter vehicles are counterbalancing the heavy ones.

A field survey conducted by city staff at the Chico Mall, North Valley Plaza, Mangrove Shopping Center and city lot No. 7 showed only 3 percent of the parked vehicles were SUVs exceeding 4,500 pounds, or 2.5 tons, another 8 percent were big trucks topping that weight, and some 44 percent were compacts weighing in at less than 2,900 pounds.

The informal survey of local parking lots, of course, does not represent a random sample needed for a reliable accounting with a specific margin of error anymore than would a survey of the vehicles dropping off students at the local elementary schools on any given weekday morning.

McKinley said in his memo that the high number of lighter vehicles actually reduces the average weight of today’s vehicle as compared to those prior to the 1980s, when this section of the municipal code was last amended.

Still, McKinley noted, “many people who own and drive the heavier vehicles currently live on city streets that, under the Chico Municipal Code, are illegal to drive on. If the weight limit is not increased, owners of the heavier vehicles are subject to being cited.”

He went on to say that because the roads can handle the heavier weights and the police don’t have the time or resources to cite the big vehicles, the city should raise the limit to seven tons, which is equal to the county limit.

“If certain streets are exhibiting signs of failure or an obvious lack of strength,” he wrote, “then consideration could be given to reducing the weight limit on those particular roadways.”

After the council first took up the issue in September, it sent it to the Internal Affairs Committee, which sent it back to council without a recommendation. That committee, made up of Mayor Maureen Kirk and Councilmembers Steve Bertagna and Dan Herbert, was unable to reach a recommendation because Herbert was absent and Bertagna had to excuse himself from voting because his personal vehicle is a truck that exceeds the current maximum weight.

It came back to the council, which bandied it about and then sent it back to Internal Affairs in October. The story has been picked up in a couple of other newspapers, including USA Today and the Arizona Republic.

Internal Affairs sent it back to the council, which with virtually no discussion tentatively moved to amend the municipal code, which should happen at the next council meeting, Nov. 16.