Declaration does prioritize safety

Climate emergency resolution acknowledges Chico’s new norm

During the Chico City Council meeting last Tuesday (April 2), as a storm and flooding aptly punctuated talk of a climate emergency, a flippant remark from a conservative on the dais brought a disconnect in our city into tragicomic relief.

First, the setup: A public commenter discounted the resolution on climate change while invoking a 36-year-old passage in the municipal code that, in her words, “declared a nuclear-free zone.” (Chico indeed has a prohibition on nuclear weaponry, adopted in 1983, when locals still recalled Titan I missiles siloed outside of town two decades earlier.) Councilman Karl Ory, mayor in ’83, drew cheers after calling the ban “probably the most effective ordinance ever passed.”

Councilman Sean Morgan delivered the punch line: He injected into the deliberation that, “with all due respect,” he agreed with Ory, and then went on to say that the “plastic bag ban” also was one of the best ordinances because “not one Chico sea turtle has been proven to have choked on a plastic bag.” Cue the snare drum.

Morgan—another former mayor, from the opposite end of the political spectrum—referred to the city’s 2013 ordinance barring single-use sacks, which wound up becoming state law the same year. Never mind that the ban addresses trash, not turtles, and has reduced litter at the landfill. (We confirmed as much with the Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility.) The pot shot fit a narrative.

With growing rancor, a segment of the community fixated on crime harps that Chico’s progressives ignore public safety. That issue, these residents say, is paramount. Anything else wastes time.

Government can accomplish multiple aims at once. In this instance, climate change and public safety inexorably intertwine. Morgan may have referred to the declaration of a climate emergency—which passed, over his dissent—as “another feel-good initiative,” but the deluge outside City Council chambers proved its merit. The Camp Fire also proved its merit. Extreme weather and disasters exacerbated by climatic conditions affect public safety. Who responds to fires and floods? Firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement—public safety personnel.

Chico and other communities neighboring burn zones continue to grapple with new norms since Nov. 8. The climate-emergency declaration calls on city officials to incorporate the big picture in their vision, reality in their plans. There’s nothing “feel-good” or funny about that.