Junkyard to move

At least, that’s the latest in the Chico Scrap Metal saga; time will tell

A group calling itself Move the Junkyard organized a petition in November 2016 that was challenged in court and a Butte County judge this year ruled valid.

A group calling itself Move the Junkyard organized a petition in November 2016 that was challenged in court and a Butte County judge this year ruled valid.

CN&R file photo

Chico Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer picked a good week to undergo an emergency appendectomy, not that she had much choice in the matter. It gave her an excuse to stay home and miss a special—and especially rancorous—council meeting held Monday evening (July 16).

It was a one-item meeting. In the end the council voted, 5-1, with Mayor Sean Morgan dissenting—seemingly just for the heck of it—to repeal city Ordinance 2490. The long battle over the ordinance was finally over and Chico Scrap Metal would be forced to move, something it had resisted tooth and toenail for nearly 15 years.

Down at his end of the dais, Councilman Mark Sorensen was doubtful. “This is not the final action,” he warned, appearing to predict that CSM would sue the city for an illegal taking of private property.

Some background: When the city of Chico and Butte County signed off on the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan in 2004, the goal was to make the neighborhood more residential in nature. Several industrial businesses along East 20th Street were designated nonconforming uses and told to move. All did so, with one exception: Chico Scrap Metal.

For the next 12 years the city and CSM squabbled over the scrap yard’s fate. Liberal councils wanted the business to move, saying it was environmentally incompatible with the neighborhood. Conservative councils considered it a valuable business offering an important service, recycling.

The city couldn’t afford to buy the business, so it agreed to an amortization plan that gave CSM and its owners, the Scott family, the right to stay where they were for 10 years, sufficient time to raise the funds that would cover moving costs.

Twice the Scotts sought and were granted extensions. Then, in October 2016, the council’s four-member conservative majority pushed through Ordinance 2490, which effectively would have allowed CSM to remain at its current site in perpetuity.

In November 2016, a group calling itself Move the Junkyard began circulating a referendum petition; in just a month it gathered 9,200 signatures. But the conservative council majority, instead of rescinding the ordinance or putting it on an upcoming ballot as the petition required, chose to sue Move the Junkyard, claiming that the referendum was invalid for various technical reasons.

More than a year later, in January 2018, Butte County Superior Court Judge Tamara Mosbarger ruled that the referendum was valid. Six months later, on July 6, she issued a writ of mandate commanding that the council either repeal the ordinance or put it on the Nov. 6 ballot. She gave the city 10 days to act.

Monday’s last-minute meeting was called in response to Mosbarger’s writ, but somehow her directive was misinterpreted when the agenda was created. In addition to the two options Mosbarger had given the council, there were two more options for council consideration, placed on the agenda by person(s) unknown.

Option 3 would have authorized a special election on the referendum, and Option 4 would “[P]rovide other direction to staff,” a far cry from the writ’s specificity.

“It’s painfully obvious that the agenda is incorrect,” Councilman Karl Ory said, reminding his colleagues that they were expected to consider only the two options posited by Mosbarger.

That was plenty for them to do, as it turned out. It quickly became painfully obvious, to borrow Ory’s phrase, that the council members didn’t know what unintended consequences the options might have.

Some 22 people stepped to the lectern to offer council members their opinions. Most favored moving CSM but didn’t care whether Option 1 (repealing the ordinance) or Option 2 (putting it on the ballot) was selected. Several council candidates added their two cents’ worth.

“Respect the 9,000 citizens who signed the petitions” and either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot, said Scott Huber, one of those candidates.

On the day when President Donald Trump said publicly that he trusted Russian strongman Vladimir Putin more than he did America’s intelligence services, several speakers called on the council to honor our democracy by letting people vote on this issue.

An initial council vote to put the ordinance on the ballot failed 3-3. That left only Option 1 to consider and approve, both of which the council soon did. The city attorney will draft an ordinance to rescind Ordinance 2490; it will go before the council at its Aug. 4 meeting for a first reading.

Outside council chambers following the vote, Jim McCabe, Move the Junkyard’s lead attorney, discounted Sorensen’s warning of an expensive lawsuit that will cost the city millions. The councilman “has drunk the Kool-Aid,” he said.

Maybe so, maybe not. As Sorensen said, this story is not over. With Chico Scrap Metal, it never is, apparently.