No rules

Boy, try to explain to a bunch of anarchists how a Chico City Council meeting works. That’s the position I found myself in last Tuesday night. A group of young folks, some calling themselves anarchists, others along for support, gathered at the council meeting to voice their concerns over the recent distribution of white-supremacy hate propaganda on the west side of town, physical threats visited upon some of them in the Downtown Plaza Park and why the local authorities don’t seem to have much interest in the whole thing—or at least not as much interest as when local McDonald’s franchises were spray-painted with Animal Liberation Front graffiti and some jugs of gasoline were left nearby. The 15 or so young activists sat through three hours of council matters, waiting until the “business from the floor” part of the agenda came up.

For the most part they were patient as they waited through the proceedings that included a developer’s appeal to build a gated community along Butte Creek Canyon, even though the General Plan advises against such. Then another developer, Tony Symmes, requested that the city fund the Army Corps of Engineers so it can hire somebody who will OK his request to fill in wetlands in northeast Chico and build homes. According to the EPA, however, Symmes got permission to do some wetlands infill but wanted to fill in more and proceeded to do so without seeking the permits “in flagrant disregard for environmental impacts and regulatory requirements.”

At one point, after he’d already addressed the council during the public-comment period, Symmes came forward again to respond to environmentalist John Merz’s critique of his project. Council rules say you get three minutes and that’s it. But for some reason Symmes got a second chance to speak. Finally, at 10:43 p.m., the activist kids got their turns and began asking questions. Mayor Maureen Kirk, however, sternly explained that council rules forbid councilmembers from responding to those who talk during the business-from-the-floor part of the meeting. The activists were dumbfounded. Kirk told them each speaker had only three minutes, and if they all wanted to talk they’d better move along. “This meeting ends at 11,” she told them, repeating that hard-and-fast rule three more times during the activists’ 17 minutes of recognition. “Where are the cops?” asked one of the kids in regard to the hate propaganda. (Actually all he had to do was turn around to see two uniformed Chico police officers in the council chambers and two more in the chamber lobby, making sure the anarchists didn’t break any rules.) Fortunately, City Manager Tom Lando and Councilmembers Dan Nguyen-Tan and Scott Gruendl did respond and told the young folks that they would facilitate a meeting with the cops and the council. Councilmember Dan Herbert, who offered to be at that meeting, told the youths they should be more conciliatory toward the authorities or they’d never get anywhere. Follow the rules of etiquette, kids, he seemed to say.

Even with only two of four incumbents running for re-election, if early signs are any indication, we can still expect a dirty, mud-slinging, truth-twisting and thoroughly entertaining (unless you’re personally involved) City Council election campaign. It began with the refusal of the conservatives to make an appointment to fill the vacancy left by Coleen Jarvis’ death. They said no to her husband, Michael Stauffer, no to her good friend (and extremely decent person) Mary Flynn and even rejected former Councilman Jim Fletcher, a registered Republican, for God’s sake. So the line was drawn, the curse was cast. Now we have conservative gadfly John Gillander back in action, sending a letter to the editor with his name attached to a twisted attack on Councilman Nguyen-Tan. And we have Juanita Sumner and her husband—their political motives are hard to figure—racing around with a video camera and getting in the faces of Gruendl and other liberals. I don’t know, maybe these anarchists are on to something.