Junk in public

The Aug. 6 Chico City Council meeting was downright weird. Maybe it was the attendance of a number of Butte County officials testing out the new and improved relationship between the city and county (they vowed to give it a try at a joint meeting a few weeks ago), or maybe it was just the subject matter at hand. In any case, we had a tow truck driver who said he “loved going to accidents,” relatively polite and cooperative behavior among the councilmembers, and an embarrassing—and incredibly thoughtless—ethnic slur that passed without any public protest and little comment. For the record, the council voted 5­0 not to give building renovator Wayne Cook a $350,000 loan so he could buy the old municipal building on the corner of Main and Fifth streets for $300,000. The council then listened to county reps and debated the idea of joining the county to form an abandoned-vehicle-abatement program to rid our streets and yards and fields of unwanted cars.

In the case of the municipal building, with Councilmember Coleen Jarvis absent and Councilmember Larry Wahl conflicted out (his wife owns property within 500 feet of the old building and thus what happens to it could affect Mrs. Wahl’s property’s value), the council, led by Councilmember Maureen Kirk, decided to postpone the decision to sell and instead consider a long-term lease or open up the bidding process to other potential investors. Councilmember Rick Keene and Mayor Dan Herbert expressed concern that retrofitting the building for earthquake protection and meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements at an estimated cost of $1 million to $1.5 million is too expensive for the city. Herbert called it a “glaring expense” and noted the city had other big budget items to consider, such as widening the streets. Former Councilmember Mary Andrews said that while Cook is a nice enough fellow, the building belonged to the city and should stay under city ownership. “This pristine building should be open to the public,” she said. Other members of the public agreed and wondered what would go in if Cook took it over—dental suites, doctors offices, a tattoo parlor?

Next came the vehicle abatement issue, or as Rob MacKenzie, chief deputy county counsel, called it, “junk in public.” The Board of Supervisors had already voted to form a joint powers authority with the five Butte County cities, but unless Chico signed on, the JPA could not exist. (Chico’s relatively large population made its joining mandatory in order to satisfy state requirements.) The California Highway Patrol has said abandoned vehicles present health hazards and are costly to dispose of if the registered owner can’t be found. Councilmember Steve Bertagna questioned the cost to the public—$1 tacked onto vehicle registration fees—and noted he has eight vehicles. So District Attorney Mike Ramsey collected $8 from the county officials there and with a wink gave it to the reluctant Bertagna, hoping to persuade him to go along with the program. Bertagna, going along with the joke, counted the money and found it came to only $7, which prompted him to say the DA had “jewed him.” Bertagna’s unfortunate choice of words stunned the audience and spoiled the air like a loud fart in a crowded elevator. Ramsey mentioned that he had a prosecutor in his department, Leonard Goldkind, who would be interested in Bertagna’s words. When Ramsey finished his plea for support of the program, he walked back to his seat shaking his head and muttering about Bertagna’s gaffe. But the meeting moved on without so much as another peep on the matter. Some councilmembers expressed concern about property rights and the towing of disabled vehicles off private land. Keene, who said he was worried about “unemployed loggers” who can’t afford to keep their vehicles running, was the lone holdout on a 4­1 vote to agree to join after the city’s own version of the ordinance is fine-tuned.

Some friends of the late Alioune Fame have started a scholarship fund for low-income kids who want to play in a soccer league each fall at Off the Wall Soccer. The friends, who do not wish to be identified, say they need to raise $350 each year in order to sponsor eight (one team’s worth of) players. Send checks to Off the Wall Soccer, 1090 East 20th St., Chico 95928.

Congrats to the CN&R’s Devanie Angel, who right on the heels of winning two California Newspaper Publishers Association awards comes back with the Butte County Farm Bureau’s "Media Partner of the Year" award for her local agricultural coverage. Now she’s shooting for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.