No apology necessary

City Council rejects a call for a commissioner’s atonement

For the second time in four years, Chico City Councilman Larry Wahl called out Planning Commissioner Jon Luvaas for what he deemed inappropriate language, but once again Wahl was rebuffed in his effort by the other council members.

Wahl, acting on a citizen’s e-mail request, asked the council to consider forcing Luvaas to make a public apology in front of the council at its next meeting. The offense? Luvaas’ words at a March 4 commission meeting, when he said a proposed bank drive-through caters to those too lazy to “get off their duff and walk a few steps.”

The citizen, Nancy (she asked that her last name not be made public), said she was offended when she read Luvaas’ words in the Enterprise-Record the day after the meeting. She said she has a disabled placard on her car and appreciates it on days when the weather is bad and she doesn’t have to get out of her car to do her banking.

And she added: “The members of all of Chico’s commissions need to take a step back and think about the people they are making rules for. What they did to Walmart is by far the most ludicrous decision they have ever made.”

The latter remark was in connection to the commission’s and then the council’s vote to deny Walmart’s request to expand its Forest Avenue store.

Wahl said Luvaas has a history of offending the old and unstable with his words, referring to an incident in 2006 when, during a discussion on the Enloe Medical Center expansion, he questioned the financial wisdom of using the hospital’s helicopter to ferry “82-year-old people who are going to live for a year and a half anyway.”

At that time, Wahl called for the planning commissioner’s resignation. Instead, the council voted to send Luvaas a “gentle letter” of reprimand. This time around, Wahl couldn’t get any backing from his fellow council members to order Luvaas to make a public apology.

Councilman Tom Nickell said he had reviewed a recording of the meeting, and though the use of the words may have been questionable, they were not said with ill intent. Councilman Andy Holcombe said asking a commissioner or council member to make a public apology whenever a citizen fired off an e-mail of complaint would be a waste of time. And he even agreed with Luvaas’ assessment of lazy drivers; “I’m one of them,” he said.

When the public got a chance to speak on the matter, two took the opportunity. Bob Kromer, a regular at city council meetings and now a council candidate, said he was “shocked” by Luvaas’ comments, which he deemed “inappropriate” and “insensitive.”

On the other hand, a woman named Deborah Schowalter chided Wahl for once again going after Luvaas, whom she described as an educated and selfless public servant. She asked Wahl to quit insulting the commissioner.

In the end, after a motion by Wahl failed to get a second, Mayor Ann Schwab agreed to a suggestion by Nickell, who initially requested she write a letter, to speak with Luvaas on the matter.

In another matter, this time acting as the city’s Redevelopment Agency, the council discussed another e-mail directed to Wahl. This one came from Christine Fixico, the executive director of the Butte Humane Society. A week ago, she had asked Wahl to request the council consider giving BHS a no- or low-interest loan so it could purchase the long-empty Grocery Outlet building that sits on the corner of East Park Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

But in an e-mail sent the day of the council meeting, Fixico said BHS had withdrawn its offer to purchase the building, having learned there were competing offers.

(In fact, the building was recently purchased by a local developer who is reportedly having trouble finding a tenant.)

BHS wants to move out of its current facility because it is undersized and not worth refurbishing. Fixico said she will ask for the council’s consideration as soon as BHS comes up with a new plan.

Wahl, a longtime champion of the shelter, agreed and said the facility is dilapidated and the animals are forced to endure the cold winters and blazing summers.

For the bigger picture, please see this week’s cover story on page 12.