Making changes

City Council putting out bid for city attorney contract, evaluating pesticide usage

Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared (left) listens as City Manager Mark Orme provides the Chico City Council with a Camp Fire update.

Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared (left) listens as City Manager Mark Orme provides the Chico City Council with a Camp Fire update.

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Though environmental issues were the centerpiece of Tuesday’s (Sept. 3) Chico City Council meeting, the panel dropped a bombshell during its closed session report at the end of the night: a vote to put out to bid its contract for the City Attorney’s Office.

The city will send out a request for proposal (RFP) this week, and while its current firm—Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin—may choose to apply, the decision ultimately could end Chico’s ties to the City of Industry-based attorneys. The vote fell 5-1 to send out the RFP, with Councilman Sean Morgan against and Vice Mayor Alex Brown absent.

City Manager Mark Orme confirmed by phone Wednesday morning (Sept. 4) that it is the first time the city has reconsidered its contract with the firm since it was hired in April 2014. Prior to that, the city attorney was an in-house position. Orme further explained that the decision means the council is “going to go out and check the market.”

Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared did not respond to the CN&R’s requests for comment by deadline.

When it came to environmental issues, the council adopted an ordinance to create a Climate Action Commission, and also chose to reconsider its usage of pesticides.

The commission will be made up of seven council-appointed members, whose main task will be to advise the council on how to best implement the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). It’ll be akin to other city boards, such as the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission and Planning Commission. The vote fell along party lines.

In fact, the commission will come on board just in time to update the CAP. A key target, per state requirements: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 10 years. The city also is hiring a new associate planner, who will serve as the commission’s staff representative.

All of the speakers who addressed the council on this item spoke in favor. Several called climate change the most pressing issue the city is facing. Sascha Sarnoff commented that she was happy to see the council making a “more concentrated effort” to address climate change locally.

Mark Stemen, a Sustainability Task Force member and former chairman, told the CN&R later that “the most exciting part” of the shift is that the Climate Action Commission will be able to work side-by-side with the city’s other boards. (The task force will be dissolved once the commission is active.)

“A lot of people are concerned about climate change and they feel like there’s nothing that can be done,” he said. “Now, those concerns … have a place and a process to be realized. So we can get to 100 percent renewable energy, we can get to a livable planet.”

Also on Tuesday, the city took a step toward scaling back its usage of Roundup and other pesticides containing glyphosate, a controversial herbicide that some studies have linked to increased cancer risk (the Environmental Protection Agency maintains it is not a carcinogen). Erik Gustafson, Chico’s public works director of operations and maintenance, reported that the city uses just under 150 gallons of such pesticides annually across about 7,000 acres of green space.

He cautioned the city against a complete ban, which could increase costs by as much as $325,000 to $425,000 more per year. This is due not only to the steeper price of organic alternatives, he said, but also because more product would have to be used, increasing labor demands. The city currently spends about $1 million for contracted weed abatement services.

Council members ultimately unanimously requested a staff report with specific locations of current usage and a written plan with the city’s pest management policies. Gustafson told the panel that city staff started drafting an “integrated pest management plan” about a year ago, but had “just started to scratch the surface.”

Mayor Randall Stone, who brought the issue forward, said he recognized there could be a tremendous cost, but it’s worthwhile to review places where the city could phase out the pesticide’s use over time.

Morgan said he supported the idea of nixing its usage in areas frequented by children, like playgrounds and parks.

In an interesting turn of the night, Stone, who has championed First Amendment rights, chose to silence regular council attendee Rob Berry, citing City Council procedural policies. Berry attempted to discuss syringe exchange programs during the business from the floor portion of the meeting. Later on the agenda was Brown’s request to hear a syringe exchange presentation from Butte County Public Health at a future meeting (approved later with only Morgan dissenting). The council does not take public comment on agendized council member requests.

What followed was a tense exchange between Stone and Berry. Jared weighed in that public comment would happen at a future date, but the speaker could address syringe exchanges in general. (The speaker before Berry spoke against syringe exchange programs.)

Stone cautioned Berry to avoid the topic. “This is a First Amendment right,” Berry said, arguing that he wanted to be clear why he was denied the opportunity to speak.

After Berry was ordered to sit down, another regular attendee, Patrick Newman, who typically has a conflicting stance on issues, defended Berry, saying, “I hate to agree with Mr. Berry on anything, but I think I’m going to have to on that one.”

Councilwoman Ann Schwab said it would be worth clarifying the rules moving forward.

“I look at business from the floor as a place for people to speak on items they would not have an opportunity to speak on at any time,” Schwab said.