Military honor, human waste

City Council revisits military banners, proposed sewage pipeline from Paradise

Mayor Mark Sorensen, Vice Mayor Sean Morgan and Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer vote to approve Chico Military Heroes’ license to fly banners along East Avenue.

Mayor Mark Sorensen, Vice Mayor Sean Morgan and Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer vote to approve Chico Military Heroes’ license to fly banners along East Avenue.


The conclusion was foregone—banners honoring active military personnel from Chico will fly along East Avenue for two years. Having already approved Chico Military Heroes’ proposal to install the banners, the Chico City Council considered only the particulars of the group’s license during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

But the banners have struck a nerve in the community. That was evident as 15 speakers, many of them veterans, made impassioned arguments for and against the plan. Several urged the council to make a strong show of support for active servicemen and women by approving the license unanimously. Others made last-minute pleas to reconsider the project, denouncing the banners for glorifying war and supporting the U.S. military industrial complex.

Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl, a Vietnam veteran, was one member of the public who wanted the entire council’s support.

“I would hope the community, which has a lot of animosity toward the military, can put that aside and … support the young men and women of our community who have chosen to serve us,” he said. “They will be grateful that our town cares enough to recognize their service to our country.”

Chico Military Heroes made a similar proposal last year, but the group turned down a compromise to allow the banners along a limited stretch of East Avenue for 30 days. They tried again after the current four-person conservative majority took control of the council in December 2014, and during its meeting on Oct. 20, the council approved the new proposal on a 4-to-3 vote. (Liberal council members Ann Schwab, Randall Stone and Tami Ritter voted no.) City staff was directed to work out the license agreement.

The group hopes to raise the banners before Veterans Day on Nov. 11. They’ll fly 20 feet high on light poles along East Avenue from Wildwood Avenue to Highway 32, excluding highway intersections managed by Caltrans, said Erik Gustafson, Chico’s acting director of Public Works. He added that, if requested by a home or business owner along East Avenue, Chico Military Heroes must remove the banners from in front of the property.

“We don’t want to be in the business of policing that,” Gustafson said. “If somebody has an issue with it, we want [Military Heroes] to take it down.”

The council voted 4-3, again down party lines, to approve the license.

The council revisited another controversial concept, that of building an 8-mile pipeline connecting Paradise to Chico’s sewer system. Paradise Vice Mayor Jody Jones appeared before the council during its meeting on Sept. 1 to explore potential solutions to the decaying septic systems in her town’s commercial core.

Paradise is preparing to conduct an environmental impact report on the pipeline and other options, including the town building its own water treatment facility or small clusters of septic systems.

Jones appeared again before the council on Tuesday as a neighborly gesture; the town of Paradise could have conducted the environmental review without Chico’s blessing, “but we didn’t think that was appropriate,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to assume interest on Chico’s part, and didn’t want to waste money and everyone’s time studying this alternative if there is no interest.” She requested a go-ahead only on the review, not commitment to the project.

Councilwoman Ann Schwab said there are too many unanswered questions regarding the pipeline, and expressed concern that taking on Paradise’s sewage would limit Chico’s ability to expand in the future. City officials have often repeated that Chico’s Water Pollution Control Plant has the capacity to treat 12 million gallons of sewage per day, but operates at about half that. However, City Manager Mark Orme said the city recently began evaluating the facility’s capacity in depth, and that that analysis will come before the council in coming months.

“Candidly, we wouldn’t recommend connecting anybody to our system until we’re satisfied we have the capacity to continue developing our own city,” Orme said.

The council voted 5-2 to support the town of Paradise’s study of the concept of installing the pipeline, with Schwab and Councilwoman Tami Ritter dissenting. However, the council emphasized that no city funding or staff time will go toward the environmental review.