Inconvenient truths

A slice of Chico’s echo chamber; plus, updates on the City Council recall effort

People tend to make excuses and come up with wacky explanations when their narrative is at odds with the evidence at hand. I’ve always known this, but I got a real kick out of watching such a scenario unfold in response to our coverage of the Chico City Council’s last regular meeting.

Posted on the CN&R’s Facebook page last week, Andre Byik’s story (see “Crime down, chief says,” Newslines, June 20) focuses on Police Chief Mike O’Brien’s report revealing that crime dropped during the first four months of the year when compared with the same time period in 2018. But several readers and one of the primary organizers of the effort to recall a couple of Chico City Council members dismissed the data.

Seems O’Brien’s analysis presents an inconvenient truth at this juncture. That’s because one of the recall group’s main gripes with the embattled representatives—Councilman Karl Ory and Mayor Randall Stone—is that Chico is less safe these days due to them not prioritizing public safety.

What O’Brien presented to the public was the number of crimes reported to the police department, not a per capita analysis factoring in Chico’s population surge post-Camp Fire. Indeed, the chief explicitly noted during his presentation that the volume was down despite the city being home to nearly 20,000 more residents following the disaster.

The recall petitioner in question suggested that, between last year and this one, residents had stopped reporting minor crimes. “I don’t think this is accurate,” the woman posited. She was joined by several others voicing bunk theories about the data—the same stats the chief reports to the FBI—and suggesting that there’s simply an illusion crime has decreased. One person straight up called O’Brien a liar.

Inconvenient truths work both ways, however. Crime may have dropped shortly after the council flipped to the progressives in December, but that’s not necessarily attributable to the new majority’s work.

But back to the recall effort … I learned last week after deadline that the aforementioned petitioner started the process over due to a paperwork error—one of the signatory’s names appearing twice. An amended version was approved on June 19, according to City Clerk Debbie Presson. That means the group now has until Nov. 26 to collect the requisite 7,592 signatures—15 percent of the city’s registered voters. That brings me to yet one more inconvenient truth.

I’ve heard from a few readers suggesting that the recall petitioners actually need to gather a higher percentage of the city’s registered voters. That’s because they are basing the count on the total from the last general election. Back then, there were 49,413 Chicoans on the voter rolls. They point to recall election language noting a 20 percent requirement when there are more than 10,000 but fewer than 50,000. In that case, the group would need 9,882 signatures—a much bigger challenge.

What they’re ignoring is part of the California Election Code—section 11221—which clearly denotes that “the number of registered voters shall be calculated as of the time of the last report of registration by the county elections official to the Secretary of State.” That number—updated in February—is 50,610. Just over the threshold for 15 percent.