Nature speaks, council heeds
Climate emergency declaration caps storm-shortened meeting
With thunder clapping and rain falling steadily, local environmentalists from groups united as Chico 350 & Allies started gathering on the steps outside City Council chambers about 90 minutes before the council meeting Tuesday evening (April 2). The lengthy agenda included a resolution, championed by Councilwoman Ann Schwab, declaring a climate emergency.
As Schwab would explain later, in introducing the item, “the impacts of climate change are a critical concern,” citing the Camp Fire as an example. She added that while Chico “already has made significant commitments to sustainability, this resolution should serve as a guiding principle”—not just for the Sustainability Task Force, in updating action plans past 2020, but also for the city as a whole in assessing all problems.
She had ample support: Many from the rally of roughly three dozen were among the 32 speakers who encouraged the council to adopt the declaration.
Several other speakers questioned the validity of the issue and the effectiveness of local legislation on a global condition. Resident Murray Lind, referring to this discussion and an earlier one on cannabis, bellowed from the lectern, “I want more police in our town … we’re talking pot and fake climate!”
But, the input—and impact—of another party resonated most loudly.
Nature punctuated the meeting with a series of sonic flurries. First came a sequence of cellphone alerts signaling a tornado warning and flash-flooding. Soon after, rain pelted the roof. The volume intensified: As high school and college students spoke of concerns about climate affecting their future, concussive echoes threatened to drown them out.
Following a break, during which Councilwoman Kasey Reynolds departed because flooding in town had affected her personally, Schwab stated that “the impact we’ve had tonight is a very potent example of what we’re going to have unless we make some very significant changes.”
The resolution (accessible at tinyurl.com/ChicoDeclare) includes the city eliminating greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2030 and fostering a “just transition” economically by creating good-paying jobs, plus calling on the state and federal governments to “initiate an emergency mobilization to mitigate climate change.”
It passed, 5-1, with Councilman Sean Morgan dissenting. Schwab had offered to let anyone suggest changes that would yield a unanimous vote—Morgan, the lone conservative present, replied that there was “no point in tearing the whole thing apart, I can’t get there.”
With streets outside the chambers sidewalk-deep in water, council members decided to adjourn after the vote, at 8:33 p.m., postponing a dozen items and closed session.
“Drama: before, during and after,” Stone told the CN&R as he readied to head home. “But really an exciting moment for climate action and addressing the severity of this problem in this community. Dramatic weather—what we saw here tonight, the reason for the closure of the meeting—is exactly the type of thing we’re trying to combat.”
Ahead of the climate declaration, thecouncil gave shape to the committee that will suggest how the city might structure commercial cannabis. Four committee members got direct spots based on organizational appointments, as will a fifth to be named, and council members will nominate five various community representatives. In two weeks, the council will finalize the community members and choose from among themselves a City Council designee.
The Commercial Cannabis Citizen Advisory Committee drew 26 applicants as a result of the recruitment process contentiously drafted at the March 5 meeting. (See “Legal jeopardy and weed,” Newslines, March 7.) Ultimately, the council opted to specify slots to incorporate interests: cannabis expert, local business, downtown business, Chamber of Commerce, real estate, the university, public schools, public health and community at large—the latter receiving two. City staff presence will include law enforcement.
Vice Mayor Alex Brown immediately made a motion to put on the committee Butte County’s public health officer, Dr. Andy Miller, and the individual chosen by the Chico Unified School District to represent its agency, Assistant Superintendent Jim Hanlon.
Schwab questioned the process of considering nominees without a framework set. She also noted that Chico State might want to select an appointee, since the city had invited the university to join, too.
“Be consistent,” Schwab said.
Stone noted that the Downtown Chico Business Association had endorsed one of its board members, Teri DuBose—and Councilman Karl Ory pointed out that the Chico Chamber of Commerce had recommended Karli Olsen (a board member).
Fourteen applicants spoke, including DuBose. A unanimous vote made Miller and Hanlon the first committee members. A separate motion on DuBose and Olsen carried 6-1, with Ory opposed, saying the DCBA had appointed someone “not for” cannabis, which he deemed “grandstanding a little bit.”
The council voted unanimously to let Chico State determine its appointee, but not until after debate swirled as to what constituted a Chico perspective for a city committee. Must a member reside within city limits, as required for commissioners or board members? Morgan advocated to “categorically deny” anyone without a Chico address—and when it came to the university, where he teaches, he pointedly said if the representative were a student who isn’t from here, he’d be “uninterested in hearing from that person.”
In a final burst of drama, Stone and Brown joined Morgan and Ory in voting down a motion by Councilman Scott Huber to add a second council representative to the committee.
Ory said the panel was large enough. Morgan, again pointed, asked Schwab if she’d be willing to serve after stating he felt Brown would echo positions of the cannabis industry. Schwab, mayor when Chico previously considered legalization of dispensaries for medical cannabis, said she would.