Not far enough

Initiative on homeless people in creeks and parks becomes law—and could expand

Vice Mayor Sean Morgan and Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer during the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Vice Mayor Sean Morgan and Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer during the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6.


Chico has officially adopted a new law targeting nuisances in parks and degradation of waterways, and now a push to extend it citywide has the support of at least one local service provider for homeless people.

Michael Madieros, the executive director of Stairways Empowered Living, said as much during the Chico City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6. He says his outreach and housing efforts would be hindered if the law varies by location.

“We have to stop and unify what we’re doing here,” he said. “Let’s have a city ordinance everybody understands. When I go out to do outreach, when the officers are out there doing their thing, it’s a lot easier—we don’t have to look at, ‘ ‘What street am I on? Is this the tactic I’m going to use to help this individual because I’m on this corner?’”

At its last meeting on Sept. 15, the council approved the Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property ordinance on a 6-to-1 vote, with Councilwoman Tami Ritter dissenting. It prohibits the storage of personal property on public land; establishes City Hall and the surrounding area as a “Civic Center” with an exhaustive list of prohibitions; extends the city’s existing civil-sidewalks ordinance (also known as the sit/lie law) to building entrances; and allows police officers to more easily cite homeless people for camping along Chico’s creeks and tributaries.

On Tuesday, the law came back to the council for its final reading before going into effect at the beginning of November. Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer pulled the item for discussion, arguing that the law doesn’t go far enough. Pushing homeless people out of the creeks and the Civic Center will be a detriment to home and business owners in other areas of the city, she said. Fillmer then asked Police Chief Mike O’Brien whether expanding the ordinance citywide would be helpful from an enforcement perspective.

“Having additional tools to deal with these sorts of issues is always helpful, particularly in this current climate,” O’Brien responded. He added that the law could be extended to all public property throughout the city, if the council desired, though that would require a comprehensive review of the ordinance’s language.

After the council officially adopted the ordinance by a 6-to-1 vote—Ritter again the lone dissenter—Mayor Mark Sorensen motioned to revisit the possibility of expanding the law throughout Chico in three months. That motion passed 5-2, with Ritter and Councilwoman Ann Schwab casting the nay votes.

The council also considered another familiar issue that has long stymied business owners: the issuance of alcohol licenses.

After a string of alcohol-related student deaths and Chico State’s Call for Community Action in 2013, the council got tough on businesses applying for alcohol licenses, particularly within census tracts with an “undue concentration of alcohol licenses” as defined by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

As a result, many businesspeople—such as the owner of the Mangrove Mini Mart, the Winchester Goose, Enjoy Teriyaki and B Street Public House—had difficulty receiving council approval to sell alcohol despite being heavily invested in their business plans. The council often sent mixed messages, such as denying Mangrove Mini Mart’s application just months after approving one for retail giant BevMo.

A draft policy for reviewing requests for alcohol licenses came before the council on Tuesday. Community Development Director Mark Wolfe said that the policy requires all applications in areas oversaturated with alcohol licenses to come before the council for a determination of public convenience or necessity.

The policy is flexible, Wolfe said, and emphasizes that not all establishments that sell alcohol are equally troublesome.

“For example, a sandwich shop that sells beer is not the same as a straight-up bar,” he said. “So, there is a clarification in the policy that those establishments that are more likely to cause problems will be looked at a little more closely.”

The council voted 6-1 to approve the policy, with Councilman Andrew Coolidge dissenting.