Gun and property rights
Chico City Council considers two contentious issues
The Chico City Council meeting Tuesday (April 2) was a mixture of graciousness, drama and self-examination as the new assistant city manager was welcomed, a married couple accused the city of ruining their property with a bike lane, and gun enthusiasts urged the council to support the Second Amendment.
Attending his first council meeting, Mark Orme, the new assistant city manager, was introduced by City Manager Brian Nakamura. The two had worked together previously, filling the same roles in the Riverside County city of Hemet. Nakamura was hired last August, and Orme was brought aboard in March following the abrupt retirement of former Assistant City Manager John Rucker in January.
Orme mentioned to this reporter stories and comments that have appeared in the CN&R and the local daily that suggested some cronyism was at work in his hiring. “That hasn’t made it easy,” he said. Nor, he said, has being separated from his children while he makes the transition.
Nakamura said Orme had been hired unanimously by a board that considered his “training, knowledge and enthusiasm,” and that he subsequently “has hit the ground running.”
“I am very fearful for my job now,” he joked.
Orme was then welcomed with a round of applause from the council, city staff and members of the audience.
First up on the council agenda was the matter of acquiring property to complete a bicycle path from Little Chico Creek to the Community Park on 20th Street. To do so, the city needs a strip of property on Humboldt Avenue owned by Laura and Jerry Douglas.
The city has met with the couple in closed-session meetings and offered $6,250 for the property, said Tom Varga, the city’s director of Capital Project Services. The city could use the process of eminent domain, which gives government agencies the power to take private property for public use as long as it pays just compensation, which is eventually determined by a court if no agreement can be made.
Varga said the city had not heard from the couple since they said they were going to seek an independent appraisal of the land last October. The couple addressed the council and noted they were not initially against the plan, but thought the offer of compensation was low. They also said that since the city opened up a bike bridge last fall over the creek farther to the east, their property—a triplex they rent out—has become a magnet for transients and their shopping carts.
“They get drunk and sleep on our property,” Laura Douglas told the council. “We called the cops and they never showed up. They said anybody can sleep on your property.” (When asked later by the council about such policy, police Chief Kirk Trostle said, “That’s news to me. We do respond to transient calls.” He promised to talk to the couple.) Jerry Douglas said building another bike bridge over the creek will triple the number of transients.
Varga told the council this was the first the city had heard of the transient problem.
“Now that we know what is going on, we will, within reason, try to accommodate those concerns,” he said.
The council voted to continue negotiations and not move forward with the process of eminent domain to force the issue.
One of the more interesting items taken up during the meeting was a request by Toby Schindelbeck, a former City Council candidate and local business owner, that the council pass a resolution supporting the Second Amendment. Seven members of the public addressed the council, six of whom supported his effort.
John Salyer pointed to Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith’s recent statements supporting gun rights, and said the council should do the same. A man named Michael Gaughan also spoke in favor and said, “Freedom was not won with words and wisdom. It was won with blood and bullets.”
Connie Voss suggested more people carrying guns would end the increase in stabbings, particularly in Bidwell Park, and Dennis Hall said, as a retired paramedic, he’s seen his share of gun incidents, but even so is a big supporter of the Second Amendment.
Chico State professor Lisa Emmerich, taking a different stance, urged the council to “defend the entirety of the Constitution.”
After public input, Councilwoman Ann Schwab noted that each council member swears to uphold the Constitution when sworn into office, including the First Amendment, which allows free speech, such as the panel had just heard. Vice Mayor Scott Gruendl then made a motion that the council members reaffirm their oaths of office, which includes more than just the Second Amendment. That passed unanimously, though Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Sean Morgan both said they supported Schindelbeck’s request.