Making Chico clean and safe

Council approves several initiatives addressing homeless transiency

This map shows the locations (red dots) of the 19,000 service calls Chico police have received this year. The large number of calls in the south-campus area are straining city resources, Chief Kirk Trostle says.

This map shows the locations (red dots) of the 19,000 service calls Chico police have received this year. The large number of calls in the south-campus area are straining city resources, Chief Kirk Trostle says.

Photo By map courtesy chico police department

Despite some frustration on the part of community members who filled Chico City Council chambers to overflowing, the council’s special workshop Tuesday (March 26) on the problems associated with homeless transients was remarkably successful.

Some of the success is due to the ad-hoc group Clean and Safe Chico, which has been working for six months to come up with new programs to tackle the problems. As outlined by Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Katie Simmons, these include a “generosity campaign” urging people not to give to panhandlers, but rather to the service agencies that help the homeless; a “goodwill ambassadors” program that posts trained volunteers downtown to provide information and help when needed; and a “Street Pastors” program sponsored by the Jesus Center that has local pastors ministering—but not preaching—to downtown denizens during late-night hours.

Another active group is the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force, whose chairwoman is Jennifer Haffner, managing attorney at Legal Services of Northern California. Haffner listed her group’s goals, which included creating an alternative shelter with as few barriers as possible; creating day centers for the homeless, so they have somewhere to go other than City Plaza; fostering greater collaboration between law enforcement, Behavioral Health and social-service providers; and supporting the development of transitional housing.

But it was discussion of the public safety aspects of the problem that were most telling. As Police Chief Kirk Trostle told the council, there are many ordinances on the books that, if enforced, could be effective in controlling some of the worst behavior of homeless transients. Enforcement, he added, “is entirely dependent on staffing.”

One suggestion from Clean and Safe Chico was that at least three officers on foot or bicycle be posted downtown. Should we pull in three school-resource officers? Trostle asked. They’re the only ones available without pulling officers from their patrol beats.

Contributing to the problem is the fact that the south campus area requires a much larger response than other areas of town. On Thursday through Friday night, a single police beat there needs up to seven officers, while other beats in town have only one officer patrolling them.

“If we didn’t have to commit seven officers to Beat 2,” Trostle said, “we’d have the resources we need.”

Trostle also mentioned that adoption of a “sit/lie” or “move-along” ordinance would be helpful, and Councilmen Sean Morgan and Mark Sorensen both wanted to authorize City Attorney Lori Barker to look into it.

But Councilman Randall Stone and Councilwoman Tami Ritter were dubious. “I find it very hard to subrogate a citizen’s right to sit down in a park,” Stone said. And Ritter argued that “laws that punish homeless people are not going to be effective.”

Noting that a “sit/lie” ordinance would target people “who have no other place to sit or lie,” she said it likely would draw a lawsuit.

Ultimately, the council voted, 4-2, with Ritter and Stone dissenting and Scott Gruendl absent, to have Barker gather background information on such an ordinance. It also voted, 6-0, to direct Barker to prepare a “social hosting” ordinance that would hold sponsors of parties responsible for party-goers’ behavior. And it voted, 4-2, with Stone and Sorensen dissenting, to have her look into exacting fees from bars and liquor stores.

It also voted, 6-0, to have Trostle provide an in-depth analysis of his options for putting officers downtown.

Some discord developed about an hour into the workshop when Mayor Mary Goloff announced that members of the public would be limited to one minute speaking instead of the usual three. It was necessary, she said, in order to complete the workshop in time.

Some people booed. Others didn’t like it when Goloff told them, several times, not to applaud speakers’ comments. “If you want the homeless to follow the rules,” she said, “you need to follow the rules, too.”