Heated end to sedate meeting in City Council chambers

Clergy from Chico’s Old Catholic diocese threaten litigation

Chico City Council meetings tend to be relatively genteel affairs under the current progressive majority. In the past, when volatile officials like Dave Guzzetti and Dan Herbert sat on the dais, verbal fireworks were commonplace—in some quarters, eagerly anticipated. Nowadays, even for hot-button issues like the disorderly events ordinance and disc golf, voices in council chambers rarely rise above a dull roar or forceful rumble.

That’s what made Tuesday night (March 3) so stunning. Not only was there an uproar, but the speaker who caused it is a man of the cloth.

Until that point, at the very end, the session had gone as agendized. The council made some routine decisions—certifying a park-maintenance district for Husa Ranch, referring a leaf-collection ordinance back to the Internal Affairs Committee, joining the county in a fire-response agreement—and received updates from the Planning Department on Meriam Park and the general-plan process.

Then, at 10:12 p.m., came Item 5: Business from the floor. That’s when any citizen can address the council for three minutes on any topic or concern, with the proviso that no action may be taken at this time.

Vincent Quaresima took the podium. He introduced himself as a resident of Forest Ranch and the archbishop of the Old Catholic Province of Our Lady of Angels, which includes the Saint Catherine of Siena Parish church on Park Avenue. During a break 40 minutes earlier, he’d addressed the city and county firefighters in attendance, offering praise and thanks. His tone toward the council was markedly different.

The archbishop relayed an incident at Saint Catherine’s from Jan. 29, when the power went out, interrupting Father Josh Wise “mid-work” on the computer, and the police “refused to intervene getting the power turned on” in violation of state criminal code 591. (Wednesday morning by phone, the men explained that their landlord, with whom they’d had a dispute about electrical service, had hired a contractor who came without notice and switched off the power.)

Moreover, Quaresima told the council, the officer came “nose to nose with me” by an open door in front of the holy sacrament and used profanity in insulting him. He and Wise, who was seated but occasionally interjected, said they had consulted their order and would pursue legal action. “This will not rest here unless properly redressed,” the archbishop declared.

Tensions ratcheted up as Quaresima neared the end of his allotted time. The yellow light in front of Mayor Ann Schwab illuminated, indicating his final seconds were ticking down, but he defiantly stated he would say his piece. He said he’d left a message for Schwab—“I’m still waiting for your return phone call, madam mayor!”—and decried “years of abuse from the police.” He kept rolling full steam ahead after the red light shone, and Schwab announced she was calling a recess.

Quaresima and Wise headed up the aisle to the back of the chamber, barking, “I will call my lawyer” and “We will see you in court.” Moments later, Schwab reconvened the meeting, prompting further outbursts from the clergymen, who ultimately retired to the lobby. As the council, with members clearly shaken, wrapped up their business, the voice of Quaresima could be heard through the closed door.

Afterward, Schwab said she “did not receive a phone call from this person. I have no idea what it’s about. It was the time of the agenda when anyone can address council, and I’m glad he felt comfortable doing it.”

Less dramatic were the actions earlier in the evening. Among the more notable:

Husa Ranch park: By a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, property owners in the Husa Ranch/Nob Hill neighborhood approved an annual assessment to form a landscaping and lighting district to maintain a new park.

Scott McReynolds, who lives across the street, called the park “essentially a grassed-in detention pond,” but fellow resident Matt Meuter responded that “hopefully we can put something in there that will appeal to more than ducks.”

The council ratified the balloting, and afterward Schwab noted that “this has been something the neighborhood has been working on for several years” and “a lot of happy people left here tonight.”

Downtown parking: With Schwab and Larry Wahl disqualified because of business interests in the area, the council voted 5-0 to introduce an ordinance that would reduce some parking requirements for downtown by 50 percent. Planning Services Director Steve Peterson explained that a study determined nonresidential parking needs were 1.6 to 1.9 spaces per 1,000 square feet, and the current code calls for 3.3 to 5—i.e. double.

The council previously decided to suspend mandatory in-lieu parking fees until the completion of the general-plan update.

General plan: On that subject, Principal Planner Brendan Vieg reported that the update of the 1994 Chico general plan should be complete by summer 2010, six months later than originally scheduled. Wahl expressed concern about added cost, but Vieg said the city is on track with expenditures—$1.1 million of $2.4 million allocated by the council—at the midway point of the process.

Council members Mary Flynn and Scott Gruendl both called the general plan “an investment,” saying that the comprehensive evaluation taking place now will pay dividends over the 20 years of the general plan, such as positioning the city to take advantage of economic stimulus funds.

Leaf collection: After hearing from a series of commercial landscapers expressing fears about what changing city policy could mean for their businesses, the council unanimously decided to refer a leaf-collection ordinance back to the Internal Affairs Committee for reworking.

Firefighting: The City Council followed the Board of Supervisors in approving a new agreement between the Chico and Butte County fire departments calling for “closest force response.” Operational details still need to be worked out, but under the new strategy—also known as a “full boundary drop”—the station closest to a fire or emergency would respond regardless of whether that location falls under its jurisdiction.

Supervisor Maureen Kirk, a former mayor of Chico, told the council that her board had signed off on the proposal with a 5-0 vote earlier Tuesday. A 7-0 vote sealed the city’s end of the bargain, which either side can ask to terminate with 60 days’ notice.

Flynn, in particular, stressed a desire for rank-and-file firefighters to have a say in deployment plans. “Certainly we have a tremendous resource in Chief [James] Beery, who comes from a jurisdiction [Portland, Ore.] where this was a huge issue that he had to manage,” she said after the final adjournment. “But at the same time, when considering changes to our operation, we need to talk to the guys on the line.”