Mosquito problem quickly slapped

April 17: one hour. May 1: one hour, 26 minutes. Combined, these back-to-back City Council meetings took less time than some public hearings. Was Mayor Andy Holcombe trying to set records?

“Would that be 45s or 33s?” he quipped, in a deadpan as vintage as vinyl. “A 45 would be a shorter meeting, 33 a longer meeting.” So a 45 it was—A side and B side.

The pun was only fitting after a brisk session spiced up by the sound of music.

Around 7:15, ears perked up as drums and chants from an immigration-rights rally on the front steps pulsed through the lobby into council chambers. Chico resident Jessica MacKenzie had to speak louder at the podium to finish detailing her concerns about the Fair Street detention pond; otherwise, the proceedings continued apace. (For more on the rally, see Downstroke.)

The detention pond was one of just two items on the regular agenda—both raised by Councilman Larry Wahl, both simply requests to get issues on future agendas. Had the council members not elected to hear the pond matter immediately, they’d have been out the door in under 50 minutes.

“My guess is it’s cyclical,” Holcombe said of the light agendas.

“And your leadership,” Councilwoman Mary Flynn lightly interjected.

“Aside from my leadership,” the mayor continued with a smile, “it’s a reflection of the fact that 80-90 percent of what we do, while important, is fairly routine. Certainly not every meeting do we have something that’s controversial, not just among the council but the community. Like tonight—there was an issue of community concern regarding West Nile virus, but there wasn’t controversy.”

Indeed, the residents near the Fair Street Detention Pond found the council to be a sympathetic audience and Building & Development Services Director Fritz McKinley notably attentive.

Two of the seven Californians who died from West Nile virus last year lived in a 50-house neighborhood in south Chico. Based on the 34 reported cases in Butte County, Mike Wacker told the council, he and his neighbors were at “500 times greater risk than the rest of the county.”

The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water. The city built a dam last year in an attempt to contain the boggy problem, but the neighbors say the berm has only made for more swampland.

McKinley said the city has accepted bids for a $100,000 project that would create a “low-flow” bypass that would take runoff water away from the pond. Work should start soon and be finished by Oct. 1.

That may be too little too late for this summer, considering how recent flurries of rain showers keep refilling the pond. Wacker—who said the neighbors have been trying to get City Hall attention for 10 months—asked for quick action on this “serious health hazard.” After MacKenzie shared similar sentiments, McKinley declared, “I’m hearing what they’re saying, loud and clear.”

The council voted 7-0 to have McKinley present them with short-term and long-term plans of action at the next meeting, May 15.

Including various procedural motions, all 10 votes Tuesday were unanimous. Wahl’s other item—requesting a defined informational process for the council’s budget session—didn’t even come to a vote.

“We all get along,” explained Councilman Tom Nickell, one of five so-called progressives (including Holcombe and Flynn) impaneled with two conservatives (including Wahl). “It’s a positive council—very professional.”

That’s a good thing for Holcombe, whose ability to run a tight meeting got publicly questioned, in mocking fashion, before he even became mayor.

“I’d forgotten about that,” he laughed when reminded of that daily-newspaper editorial. “For me, there’s satisfaction in running a procedurally tight and correct meeting. … and I think people are happy to have tight meetings.”