Mayor keeps position after tense exchange; council comes together on housing, homeless initiatives
Ten months into Randall Stone’s tenure as Chico’s mayor, members of the City Council found themselves weighing whether to consider revoking his leadership role on Tuesday (Sept. 17).
The move was prompted by a proposal from conservative Councilman Sean Morgan, though it appeared a rift had been festering between council members, regardless of political views. After a lengthy discussion, a vote ultimately fell on ideological lines, with the progressives deciding to nix reconsideration of Stone’s appointment.
For a meeting with several contentious subjects on the agenda, discourse was noticeably civil. The panel even passed a number of seemingly controversial agenda items with broad support. That included topics related to affordable housing on city land and a jobs program for those who are homeless.
More than half of the public’s comments from the business from the floor portion of the meeting related to Stone, with about a dozen people offering criticism, including of his choice to silence a speaker at the last council meeting (see “Making changes,” Newslines, Sept. 5). Some called for him to step down, alleging hypocrisy and a lack of civility. A couple of people waved signs that read “give up the gavel.”
When it came time to discuss Stone’s position at the meeting’s end, Morgan said he wished to rescind the vote he’d cast in December because he no longer felt comfortable with Stone’s behavior in the chambers and on social media, or his “indiscriminate application of rules.”
Councilman Scott Huber stated that “a number of councilors feel they’ve been disparaged, bullied and ignored by the mayor.” Councilwoman Ann Schwab shared similar sentiments.
Huber asked Stone directly: “Can you tell us if you have any plans to change the way that you interact with your fellow councilors or the community, and what would they be?”
Though Stone said he was disappointed about how this discussion came up, he added that he understood why. He cited his disposition and the collective trauma the community is experiencing post-Camp Fire, among other things.
“I’m committed to communicating more effectively and more routinely, and with more civility amongst us all,” he said. “Have mistakes been made? Absolutely. I can tick them off. I know the biggies. Can we do better? Absolutely. Will we? Absolutely. And that starts with me.”
Though Schwab appeared torn when it came time to vote, she chose to side with her progressive colleagues, adding that “this evening gave us an opportunity to discuss and address ways we can move forward.”
In other council news, the panel unanimously voted to seek ideas from the public on how best to use city land to create affordable housing. City staff specifically recommended considering four large, vacant parcels at the northwest corner of Bruce and Humboldt roads for new development. Council members also encouraged the community to think outside the box.
Schwab suggested public-private partnerships to co-locate housing with parking lots, stores and even the Chico Transit Center.
“I think this would be an exciting prospect, where we could help improve some of our facilities and that would be a way for the city to be that partner,” she said. “When we’re looking for city property, we don’t have a lot of it available.”
Morgan anticipated some people would be shocked by his aye vote, so he explained that this could drum up some interesting conversation, and “it’s irresponsible not to allow the discussion.”
Another initiative that received support across ideological lines was Huber’s proposal to look into a homeless jobs program. In general, these programs provide work to the unhoused that include cleaning up blighted city areas.
An ad hoc committee will review such programs elsewhere and discuss whether one could financially pencil-out for Chico.
Some service providers in attendance were split on the topic. Angela McLaughlin, Safe Space Winter Shelter board president, said she was open to discussing the concept, but she was concerned about the efficacy without a comprehensive approach that included enough shelter beds or housing for the individuals who would participate.
“It feels like it’s almost pandering to a group of the community that says, ‘Well, they should just get a job,’ without taking into account the whole spectrum of issues we’re encountering,” she said.
In contrast, Patrick Newman, of Chico Friends on the Street, said that people have to give those on the streets opportunities to live a dignified life, and this provides a counter-narrative to the claim that homeless people are destroying the town.
“What you’re trying to do then is to humanize, include and socialize people on the streets,” he said. “This is a matter of how people see this population, and that’s a very powerful thing.”
Vice Mayor Alex Brown, the only dissenting vote, voiced concerns similar to McLaughlin’s. Just before casting her vote in support, Councilwoman Kasey Reynolds cited statistics from programs elsewhere that have helped house families and connected people to services. Morgan chimed in that he’d support it because he was “for progress.”