‘Eleventh hour’ deliberations

Chico council moves forward on Jesus Center, Stonegate, dismisses airport commissioner

For attendees of the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 18), the chambers were markedly different compared to two weeks ago, when an organized protest caused the mayor to clear the gallery.

Once the chambers filled, a fire marshal directed people to an overflow conference room. Seven armed police officers, including Chief Mike O’Brien, were stationed around the chambers. Velvet ropes and a partition separated the council and city staff from the crowd.

The ambiance wasn’t the only thing of note. Tuesday’s meeting ended just after 1 a.m., with a packed agenda that included the immediate removal of an airport commissioner and consideration of two controversial topics—the Jesus Center consolidated services concept and the proposed Stonegate subdivision.

When it came to the Jesus Center, its relocation and expansion project on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway has been held up by one unanswered question: where would the Silver Dollar BMX track relocate? The answer: The group will make its way to a 27-acre city-owned parcel at 1550 Marauder St. starting next May, per the council’s unanimous approval of the Jesus Center project.

A key component of the consolidated services project, now called The Renewal Center, include creating a low-barrier shelter with 100 beds, a key selling point for Councilman Karl Ory. Other aspects include a day center; medical and behavioral health providers on-site; pet, laundry, storage, food and clothing services; and an increase in shelter beds for families and women.

Executive Director Laura Cootsona told the council that 825 people currently are using services at the Jesus Center alone, and reiterated countywide statistics related to poverty and homelessness. This project is a pathway to making Chico a healthier community, she said.

“We know if we don’t have a place of respite and a place of stabilization that even having that permanent housing … wouldn’t be enough,” she said.

Several representatives of the Jesus Center’s largest new neighbor, the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, expressed concerns about fencing and security. That will be included as a stipulation in proceeding with the sale of the property by the city.

It’s likely most of the city was asleep when the council approved an environmental impact report, general plan amendment, rezone and use permit for the Stonegate subdivision, an Epick Homes project that will bring more than 600 new housing units to south Chico. (See “Development division,” Newslines, Aug. 30.)

Councilwoman Ann Schwab said starting the discussion at 10 p.m. was a “poor choice,” accurate in her prediction that the meeting would end at 1 a.m. if the council proceeded.

Chico Mayor Sean Morgan commented that the developer had asked the council to hear the item, and Councilman Andrew Coolidge added that a lot of people (25, the most speakers on any item that evening) had been waiting since 6 p.m. to comment.

What proceeded was a short analysis of the project, moved forward when Morgan literally motioned Senior Planner Mike Sawley to speed through the customary informational presentation. The project has been criticized for its environmental impact—about 9 acres of wetlands/vernal pools and 1.13 acres of Butte County meadowfoam will be destroyed. To address this, the developers agreed to set aside 136 acres for a preserve and purchase mitigation credits.

After two hours, the vote was 4-3, along party lines.

Stone explained that his “no” vote wasn’t about the project itself, but the nature of how it was being considered, at “literally the eleventh hour.”

“We’re looking at midnight, our largest project in years, if not decades, is coming forward,” Stone said. “My ‘no’ vote is because I don’t believe the public has been given the opportunity to speak here.”

One of the more intense portions of the meeting happened after midnight, when most of the council chambers had cleared. Morgan had proposed the immediate removal of Steven Breedlove from the Airport Commission. Breedlove, who was nominated for his appointment by Coolidge and sworn in in January of last year by the entire council, participated in the organized protest that took place at the last council meeting (see “Kicked out,” Newslines, Sept. 6).

“Actions have consequences,” Morgan said when Ory pressed him about the urgency of the matter. He continued to say Breedlove had been rude in his comments to the council and his decisions were not good for the community or commission.

The council voted 5-1, with Ory against, citing a “lack of due process” to remove Breedlove immediately. Schwab abstained due to lack of information about how this was related to Breedlove’s role on the commission.

In his response to the council, Breedlove said he has not violated codes of conduct, rolled his eyes, made personal attacks against colleagues or “exhibited conflicts of interest putting business interests above the general welfare of the people” in his capacity as a public servant. He called his dismissal a “transparently authoritarian act of political retaliation.”

“Twice now a parks commissioner that you named last meeting has been censured for hostility towards the homeless,” he continued.

“… We protest in part because you amplify these voices of hate and exclusion even though the rest of us continue to show up often in greater numbers, offering real policy.”