Eight is enough

A Q&A with the folks who are seeking the three Chico City Council seats

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About this story:
In addition to the candidates featured, you’ll find the name James Aguirre on the ballot for Chico City Council. However, because Aguirre has been a no-show at each of this year’s council forums, the CN&R does not consider him an active candidate and did not include him in this report. The other candidates’ answers have been minimally edited, mainly for grammar and punctuation. This is an extended version of the Q&A that appeared in print.

Chico’s Chamber of Commerce would like the City Council to explore new taxes, such as a sales tax increase or bond measure that voters would take up at the ballot box. Should the council do so? Why or why not? If so, what should the money be spent on?

Alex Brown: Taxation is a tool that can be used strategically to move our city forward. It should be built into cannabis commerce in Chico so we can benefit from revenue through cannabis dispensary sales, allowing us to address other issues impacting our city. If the city were to implement additional taxes, my priorities would be in addressing homelessness, Chico’s pavement conditions and the CalPERS crisis.

Andrew Coolidge: I am currently in support of exploring a bond measure for road repairs, which would free up a substantial amount of funds to not only improve roads, but also to benefit various other aspects of city services. I believe all fee or tax increases should be decided by the citizens of Chico.

Matt Gallaway: If proponents believe that enough public support for these proposals exist, they should collect signatures. I am focused on other, more sustainable ways of funding our basic services. With that said, the city’s finance committee has already agreed to survey the community about these proposals and I’m committed to serving the needs and desires of the public.

Scott Huber: It is irresponsible to not look at every option for solving our severely underfunded safety issues, such as road repairs, fire and police staffing. In addition to seeking out grant funding wherever available, taxes and bonds must be part of a comprehensive revenue-generation discussion. Not doing so handicaps our ability to keep citizens safe.

Rich Ober: Taxes, bonds and other revenue-generating measures are simply tools in our toolbox. It is smart fiscal management to bring all of these tools to the job of balancing our city’s needs against budgetary restraint. The chamber offered one option and the City Council should now do its job and lead an open discussion. Any revenues generated through these means should be applied to infrastructure and pension liability reduction.

Ken Rensink: Yes, a ballot measure increasing city revenue should go before the voters. Take Chico’s roads; to maintain them at a PCI (pavement condition index) of 60 out of 100 will require spending $3 million to $4 million more per year. Potholes, slowed traffic, increased air pollution, auto repairs (tires, alignments) are costs too. We will all pay one way or another. The voters should decide.

Kasey Reynolds: According to the Public Policy Institute of California, about 4 in 10 Californians are living in, or near poverty. Increasing gas, housing, electricity and food prices are making it more and more unaffordable to live here. With that being said, I believe that the decision to increase taxes should be left up to the voters of Chico, not the seven members of the City Council.

Jon Scott: Until exploding unfunded pension costs are addressed, no new taxes should be discussed. In a time not that long ago, tax rates were far below what they are today and yet we found money for libraries, police, fire, etc. Currently, unfunded pension liability costs to the city of Chico are $500,000 per month. That money could fund additional police and road repairs.

Would you support expanding crisis intervention training for Chico police officers? Why or why not?

Alex Brown: Yes. Responding to a crisis requires a different set of skills than responding to a general safety concern. People in crisis cannot respond to intervention as well as people who are not in crisis can respond. This training supports our police force in developing an essential set of skills to manage crises effectively. An investment in CIT training is an investment in public safety.

Andrew Coolidge: Chico Police Department officers have the proper training, according to state and local standards. I was pleased to support the implementation and use of body cameras for our officers and also to work toward the department increasing from just 65 officers to now 95 under my first term on the council. I also agendized and support the year-round operation of the Street Crimes Unit.

Matt Gallaway: I look to the chief for answers to these difficult questions. The statistics I’ve seen from Chico PD indicate that incidents in which use of force is necessary amounts to a miniscule amount of the total number of calls to which they respond. I’m in favor of a safe Chico and will support our police with the tools they need to accomplish that goal.

Scott Huber: Expanded CIT and other training not only makes our community safer, it also helps assure that lives are not being lost needlessly. The more that we invest in training of our safety personnel, the lower the sot in human suffering and lawsuits.

Rich Ober: Absolutely. I believe that critical incident training, de-escalation training and implicit bias training should all be standard protocol for every police force. In addition to facilitating best policing practices, the adoption of mandatory training programs would send a clear message from the CPD to the community that we’re entering a new period of transparency, accountability and partnership.

Ken Rensink: I support providing Chico Police officers with 40 hours of critical incident training, including de-escalation strategies, conflict resolution techniques and practice role playing. This will enable our local police officers to have greater choices with skills and techniques and the confidence to apply them on the job. Increased training can also help improve police-public interactions and create a greater sense of community.

Kasey Reynolds: I support and have faith in our police chief to make these types of decisions. Politicians and activists should not be micromanaging industries and services they know very little about. Let’s leave it up to the professionals, who, in my opinion, are doing a great job in Chico.

Jon Scott: Absolutely! Police officers have a difficult job. Officers are constantly in situations in which life-and-death split-second decisions must be made. Providing additional training to our police officers is a win for the police, a win for the city, and a win for the individuals with whom the police interact. I am also a proponent of body and vehicle cameras at all times.

The state recently earmarked $4.9 million for Butte County service providers to address homelessness. The allocation hinged on the declaration of a shelter crisis. Do you support the Chico City Council’s recent decision to approve that declaration? Why or why not?

Alex Brown: I support the city declaring a shelter crisis. The city should avail itself to any funds that can be used to address the issue of homelessness in the most effective ways possible. Research indicates that housing and service-delivery models are the best and most cost-effective approaches for addressing homelessness, and the shelter crisis declaration opens the door for solutions to be brought to the table.

Andrew Coolidge: I agendized the shelter crisis discussion that came before the council and approved it because it will help provide actual solutions to the homeless problems facing Chico. While I believe in tougher enforcement on crime issues, I also believe in a helping hand for those in need. According to the city attorney, the approval does not void current laws restricting illegal camping and would not allow it.

Matt Gallaway: I’ve been consistent in saying that I support brick-and-mortar solutions. At the very root of homelessness is the fact that people lack a roof over their heads. The council decision is done; if elected, I have to deal with the ramifications. From what I’ve seen in the Continuum of Care applications, there are not many options for brick-and-mortar requests—rendering the declaration disappointing.

Scott Huber: I first asked the council to declare a shelter crisis nearly a year ago; my experience at Safe Space made it clear that more resources were needed. The HEAP allocation will allow us to entertain proposals for such items as structural shelter, a day center, mental health and addiction services, 24-hour restrooms and jobs, taking pressure off of our downtown and parks.

Rich Ober: Yes, absolutely. Many of us in the community have been advocating for this for many months, even before this funding became available. My work with [the] Torres [Shelter] has helped me understand this issue deeply. I am eager to work with the Continuum of Care to identify service providers and programs that will benefit greatly from these funds to continue to do the amazing work they are doing every day.

Ken Rensink: I absolutely support the declaration of a shelter crisis, which is a legal requirement for the city of Chico to access the $4.9 million earmarked for Butte County. I understand the concerns about “strings attached.” However, I would rather have money with strings, than no money with no strings, if that is what is required to obtain more financial support and services for our community.

Kasey Reynolds: I’m looking forward, not backwards. The question to the candidates seeking to serve in the future should be: What is the best way to use this funding with the goal of reducing and preventing homelessness? For me, I’d like to see this funding used to create a coordinated entry system so that we have rapid response services that are streamlined for those in need.

Jon Scott: I do not agree with the declaration. We do not have a shelter crisis. We have a transient behavior crisis. If you observe the transients that are congregating in every public location, you will note they are not emaciated like the pictures we often see of starving people in locations experiencing extreme famine (usually in Africa). They eat plenty and behave poorly. Enough is enough.

Should the City Council establish policy that allows for cannabis dispensaries in Chico? Why or why not?

Alex Brown: I am supportive of a smart, strategic and sustainable policy regulating cannabis in Chico. Some benefits of cannabis commerce in Chico include reducing the power of the black market, and the potential for revenue that can be utilized to address other concerns impacting our city. We can learn from the successes and errors of surrounding areas to adopt a policy that works for our community.

Andrew Coolidge: While state laws made recreational marijuana legal in the state of California, many citizens have concerns about the location of and problems associated with dispensaries and possible places throughout the city. I do not support a policy for dispensaries in Chico. I believe the council established a clear and fair set of guidelines for growing marijuana for medical or personal use in Chico.

Matt Gallaway: No. My research on the subject shows that the associated risks and costs outweigh the benefits of doing so. Other municipalities have seen an increase in crime, heavy drug usage, hospitalizations, traffic deaths related to cannabis, incidents of minority youth arrested for drug crimes, and an increase in their transient population requesting services. Considering our current situation, the costs will outweigh the benefits.

Scott Huber: A citizens’ advisory panel tasked with creating a workable regulation plan should be assembled, made up of representatives from organizations including: schools, safety personnel, business organizations, common citizens and cannabis advocates. Based on the recommendations of this group, the council should take action to allow well-regulated commercial sales on an initially limited basis. Allowing medical deliveries to patients should be approved immediately.

Rich Ober: The voters of Chico have already settled this matter by voting overwhelmingly in favor of legalization. Chico should be leading on this, applying smart management and safe regulation while also providing mechanisms for both recreational users and medical patients for safe, regulated access. It’s time for us to bring this industry out of the shadows and realize the revenues that other communities are already reaping.

Ken Rensink: Yes, as soon as marijuana is reclassified from a Schedule 1 drug and placed more appropriately on Schedule 3 or Schedule 4. Cities will then be able to craft public policy and ordinances that allow for marijuana dispensaries without placing the city, the police or funding opportunities in jeopardy with the federal government.

Kasey Reynolds: I support the current ordinance.

Jon Scott: This is a silly issue. Cannabis is legal. It should be treated like whiskey. For sale anywhere you can buy whiskey and controlled the same way. If treated that way, there will be no “marijuana only” shops. It will become a non-issue.

From a policy perspective, what would you do as a City Council member to increase Chico’s housing stock, especially for the average Chico family (i.e., those making the median household income of $43,000 a year) and the workforce (i.e., millennials)?

Alex Brown: I would incentivize development of affordable housing through waiving and/or deferring development fees for developers who include affordable units in their proposed projects. I would prioritize development of smaller units that are better suited for our workforce, including single room occupancy (SRO) units, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and other small units that are developed densely and can therefore house a larger number of Chico residents.

Andrew Coolidge: The best way to work toward more housing in Chico would be to reduce the tens of thousands of dollars in fees the city adds on to the price of a home. Over the last four years, the council has worked to streamline the development process in Chico so new homes and apartments can move forward with proper and thorough approvals.

Matt Gallaway: The biggest housing problem we face is a shortage in supply. We must reform our land-use regulations and fees in order to allow for innovation and encourage builders to invest in more units, and more importantly in different types of units. Right now, we don’t have enough low-income product. We must change that. Due to my experience, I’m uniquely qualified to do so.

Scott Huber: Citizens worked diligently with staff on our general plan—a consensus on how Chico should grow. That plan focused on higher-density infill units mixed with neighborhood commercial as a way to avoid sprawl. The city hasn’t taken the lead on assuring that we follow that plan. We need to give preference to plans that comply with the general plan goals and incentivize smart growth.

Rich Ober: Just like the rest of the state, we are facing a housing crisis in Chico, particularly for hard-working modest- and low-income families. Our development community needs to continue to be steered toward multifamily and smaller single-occupancy units. The city needs to incentivize this type of development by lowering or waiving certain fees, clearing red tape, and putting this type of development at the head of the line.

Ken Rensink: I would pursue development agreements with developers to construct high-density, affordable housing near public transportation in SPAs (special planning areas) where it might be possible to reduce some fees and costs. The city could encourage building smaller homes under 1,000 square feet for first-time buyers. The general plan also emphasizes infill development and mixed-use buildings concepts, which may also help make housing more affordable.

Kasey Reynolds: The reality is that builders will build houses if there is profit to be made. Therefore, we need to ensure that our local government is not imposing unreasonable fees and rules that scare away potential investors looking to build additional housing stock.

Jon Scott: Streamline the permit process and stop the group insanity of thinking city fees do not get passed on to homebuyers. When it often costs near $100,000 to have a lot ready to build before “pounding the first nail,” something is drastically wrong. Often those calling the loudest for “affordable housing” are the same people calling for every fee imaginable.

Overall, the City Council has become increasingly polarized during the past couple of years. What would you do to foster better relationships with members of the panel and the public who have divergent ideological perspectives?

Alex Brown: I have worked in settings that require thoughtful collaboration with individuals and organizations with differing perspectives and goals. I understand the value of meeting people where they are. I am confident in my ability to communicate effectively with my colleagues, even those who have divergent ideological perspectives. I will maintain respectful, productive dialogue and make data-driven decisions that consider the needs of all constituents.

Andrew Coolidge: I have set myself apart on the council as someone who is willing to work across the aisle and move forward on important policies for the city. From tree-planting programs in Lower Park to support of the arts in our community to efforts to save The Esplanade, I have taken the lead on many issues that seek to strengthen our community rather than separate us.

Matt Gallaway: In my profession for the past 25 years, I have served as liaison, generally between two opposing parties. Success in my world has been measured by maintaining positive results with smiles on both sides of the issue. This requires listening respectfully to others and spending valuable time on solutions rather than focusing on blame.

Scott Huber: Lead by example, by treating both community members and my fellow council members the way I want to be treated, with respect.

Rich Ober: Working collaboratively across lines of difference is a skill I have honed in my many community service roles and in my work as a communications manager for an international software company. I have taken a deep dive into understanding polarization and how to fix it. By applying communication models built on open dialogue and mutual respect, we can rebuild trust on the council and throughout the community.

Ken Rensink: The principles of open communication, collaboration, respect for all, encouraging participation, seeking solutions through constructive dialogue, not divisive rhetoric; these are the principles I applied while serving two terms on the Chico Planning Commission and will apply if elected to the City Council. To foster a better atmosphere, I suggest council members host or go out to dinner together to build relationships and mutual respect.

Kasey Reynolds: I think people should look at my long history of involvement in our community and the broad base of support for my campaign. On my website, there is a very long list of Republicans, Democrats and independents who have all endorsed my campaign. I think that is a testament to how I will bridge this divide.

Jon Scott: Respect that we are all on the same team. No one on the council (nor anyone running for council) has anything but the best of intentions for the city. As a candidate, my proposed solutions are the near opposite of some other candidates’ solutions. Regardless, I have deep respect for those candidates’ viewpoints and their loving commitment to the city. None are the “enemy.”

Given Chico Scrap Metal’s willingness to move from its current location, and the lawsuits on either side of the issue, should the City Council allow staff to work out a compromise that includes helping fund its move? Yes or no, and why or why not?

Alex Brown: Now that the decision has been made to move CSM from its current location, the city should work closely with CSM to support their move and preserve our relationship with local businesses providing essential services to our community. While it is unfortunate that this move did not happen when it was originally required, we are responsible for moving forward in a strategic and collaborative way.

Andrew Coolidge: Chico Scrap Metal wants to and should move. I was proud to be the only council member who worked with both Chico Scrap Metal and the Move the Junkyard organization to come up with 10 various ways in which the move could occur. I was disappointed, however, as these very realistic possibilities were not supported by either political side of the Chico City Council.

Matt Gallaway: I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a group of individuals forcing a private business on private property to move locations. I believe that there is a private solution to this issue and it should be fully explored prior to spending any public dollars.

Scott Huber: I’ve spent most of my life negotiating differences that have led to mutually agreed upon contracts. Both sides in the Chico Scrap Metal case feel that they’ve been dealt with unfairly. While I strongly believe that CSM must move because of toxicity issues associated with certain recycling facilities, I’d like to see us try again to negotiate a fair resolution to get that move accomplished.

Rich Ober: I believe we should honor the Chapman/Mulberry Neighborhood Plan and our commitment to the community. We should also honor our commitment to this local business and its family owners. We have spent countless dollars already on needless lawyers’ fees. We will spend more one way or another. It is time for the city to enter into good-faith negotiations with Chico Scrap Metal and resolve this divisive issue.

Ken Rensink: Yes, the council should work out a compromise with CSM that includes helping fund the move. This issue has been a source of conflict and tension in our community spanning multiple City Councils for more than a decade. In my opinion, creating a path to helping CSM move will ultimately cost less money and have greater community support than pursuing lawsuits.

Kasey Reynolds: Generally speaking, I oppose forcing any law-abiding private property owners or business to relocate against their will. I am not opposed to compromise.

Jon Scott: Yes! It’s a crappy situation. The junkyard did not do anything wrong. The issue has been made worse by allowing the houses to be built next to the scrapyard. What an idiot planning decision that was. While I find the idea loathsome (the city paying to move the scrapyard), it seems we will spend the money anyhow in lawsuits. Time to settle for a better and more certain outcome.

U.S. economists expect another recession in the next couple of years. How should the city prepare—especially given the existing service insolvency?

Alex Brown: The city can be mindful of future expenses now, including pension liabilities. This will be an ongoing issue and must be more effectively managed, recession or not. The city can also be cautious about adding back in previously filled positions, or adding new positions, unless the potential crisis will not impact its ability to continue to fund those positions.

Andrew Coolidge: Chico is still building out of the past recession. This was discovered in 2013 when the city discovered it was $20 million in debt. Since I’ve taken office in 2014, the council has worked hard to increase transparency and is just a few years away from solving its debt crisis, years ahead of the expected time. The city should continue on the path of building reserves.

Matt Gallaway: Looking at a variety of potential outcomes is key. Scott Dowell’s presentation at the last city finance meeting laid out an examination of how to address our city’s budget in the case of a declining economy. Though nothing is certain, Mr. Dowel and the city are building options for reductions. Personally, I have promoted the use of contracting certain services and building a budget reserve.

Scott Huber: Successful examples of recession-proof communities have in common an investment made in high-quality schools, ample recreation opportunities, public arts and culture and a robust regional airport and commercial air service. We should be making these investments in preparation for a possible economic downturn.

Rich Ober: The city must continue to act carefully and examine every avenue for fiscal restraint and for revenue generation. We should also embrace and expand the local economy while we can, continue to support our growing technology sector, bring airline service back to Chico, embrace the cannabis industry, support local entrepreneurs and celebrate the economic engine that is our local arts and entertainment industry.

Ken Rensink: The city should continue savings with an emergency fund. If any revenue or tax increases are proposed and passed they should explicitly state exactly how the funds will be managed to address our continuing financial challenges.

Kasey Reynolds: The City Council should continue to build up its reserve accounts to prepare for a rainy day.

Jon Scott: It is hard to prepare when there is a major and exponentially growing money leak. It’s called “unfunded pensions” and ignoring it is a horrible strategy. The city response to the pension crisis to this point has been little more than a “rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.” In fact, until unfunded pensions are addressed, we are “screwed” even if no recession comes!

A local nonpartisan group has proposed carving the city into seven districts, each with its own council seat, to lower the cost of election campaigns, reduce partisanship and promote greater representation for citizens and neighborhoods. Do you support Districts for Chico? Why or why not?

Alex Brown: I am neither inherently opposed nor in favor of districting. Diverse representation is needed at all levels of government, and I support efforts to enhance accessibility for diverse identities. However, this proposal raises more questions than answers. Namely, who would be involved in identifying these districts? And, could it potentially limit accessibility for qualified candidates who wish to step up from the same district?

Andrew Coolidge: I supported districting for Chico and brought the issue forward to council. Unfortunately, it was not approved for the voters to decide. The California Voting Rights Act mandates that cities must start switching to district elections as their population increases over 100,000 people. Districts would allow for a clear understanding of each candidate and their positions. It would also allow for more contact with voters.

Matt Gallaway: I am not opposed to this idea and I am aware that we will have to eventually do this based on California law when the city reaches a certain population threshold. With that said, I would caution anyone who believes that this will achieve the goals outlined above. In other municipalities, that has not been the case.

Scott Huber: There are pros and cons to districting. The possibility of bringing neighborhood and minority representation onto the council is a compelling reason to consider it. I’d like to see a full study done and presented to the council.

Rich Ober: I am open to voter-approved districts if they are formed wisely by an independent board and if campaign contributions are also further limited. Otherwise, districts will simply allow the deepest corporate pockets to concentrate their financial clout even more fully than they do now. Any districting plan must have at its core the goal of increasing diversity on the council and in our boards and commissions.

Ken Rensink: My understanding is that state law mandates cities with a population of greater than 100,000 to elect city council members by city districts. The population of Chico will reach 100,000 in the next few years. As an independent challenging both political party machines for a seat on the council, I believe it would help more grassroots and citizen-based campaigns compete with political party candidates.

Kasey Reynolds: I need to study this further. It’s clear that voters and candidates have many different priorities. I decided to run for City Council and take time away from my family and business to improve the safety of our community. That is what motivates me and that will be my focus on the City Council.

Jon Scott: While this topic certainly could use more discussion, I lean against the proposal. All we would be doing is pitting one Chico neighborhood against another.

What would be your No. 1 priority as a member of the City Council? Why? And how would you accomplish it?

Alex Brown: Addressing homelessness should be the main focus of our city right now. The data illustrates that the most effective way to address homelessness long-term is through housing and service delivery models. Now that a shelter crisis has been declared in Chico, I am eager to collaborate with service providers to put forth projects that provide housing and services for unhoused people in our community.

Andrew Coolidge: My top priority is the safety of the citizens of Chico. As the creator of the “Chico Safe Now” proposals, which are currently making their way through council, I am pleased to have taken the lead on public safety. Park closure times, the Jesus Center move, heightened enforcement in children’s parks and playgrounds have already passed the council with support from throughout the community.

Matt Gallaway: My top priority is public safety. It’s not only my priority; it’s the priority for a vast majority of our residents. I will accomplish a safe Chico by continuing to prioritize public safety in budget discussions and promoting economic growth. A growing tax base is the only sustainable way to improve the presence of our police force without sacrificing other departments and programs.

Scott Huber: Create an environment where all are encouraged to participate. I will request consideration of a motion to schedule quarterly townhall-style meetings, where citizens, council members and city staff can have open, multisided discussions, not limited by three-minute timers or the inability to engage in back-and-forth dialogue. Each meeting will be on a single topic, to allow a more complete understanding of the issue.

Rich Ober: Addressing our affordable housing crisis, empowering the Continuum of Care, closely partnering with the county, fully funding the Target Team, providing 24/7 restrooms and feminine hygiene products, moving forward with Simplicity Village and other housing-first models, pursuing grants and local business funding for a day center, and making the city a close and transparent partner with service providers so we can make real progress on homelessness.

Ken Rensink: My No. 1 priority will be to help create a better atmosphere for public discourse by setting an appropriate example with my tone, demeanor, nonpartisan status and fundraising policy. I only accept contributions from people (no unions, PACs, associations, etc.), for a maximum of $100. If elected, when making decisions as a council member, I will only be beholden to the people of Chico.

Kasey Reynolds: Improving the safety of our community is my top priority. Policies like AB 109, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57 are endangering the safety of our community. We need solutions at the local level, but we also need to take our fight to Sacramento where these pro-criminal policies are being developed.

Jon Scott: Transient crime and behavior. We get what we tolerate. Chico has tolerated the poor and completely unacceptable transient behavior for far too long. Time for a zero-tolerance policy. Sit and lie, uniform park closures, etc., etc. The solution is not to buy or build transients a new house, provide three gourmet meals a day and be sure they have a weekly massage.