Hot topic revisited
It’s been eight months since the Chico City Council began talking about a disorderly events ordinance, and the issue still isn’t resolved—which is why the council’s Internal Affairs Committee held a public forum on the matter Tuesday (Feb. 12).
Yes, the council passed an ordinance last fall, but the fact that nearly 5,000 people signed a referendum to put it on the ballot led the council to put its enforcement on hold and reconsider it.
Interestingly enough, the majority of those who spoke out against the ordinance Tuesday evening weren’t even students, the group thought to be affected most by it. And they weren’t irrational conspiracy theorists, either.
Around 50 people trickled into the council chambers—students, professors, local activists, average Joes. Several members of the community who spoke at the meeting said it’s more than just simply narrowing the language. Ann Ashley wondered why Chico needed the ordinance in the first place.
“I know a bottle was thrown at an officer last year,” she said. “That’s not OK, but it’s not enough for such a wide-sweeping law.”
A common argument from several of the speakers was that laws are already in place to deal with minors in possession and fighting in public—two of the 21 violations covered under the “disorderly events” ordinance.
Laurel Blankenship and Sue Hilderbrand, both members of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, said the ordinance is fundamentally flawed because it punishes innocent people engaging in lawful events because of the actions of others.
“We as a community cannot support an ordinance that takes our civil rights,” Blankenship said.
Hilderbrand pointed out that if the ordinance is in fact aimed at students, it should say so. Chico police were careful not to single out students in the ordinance.
The Chico version was modeled after Santa Barbara County’s “nuisance party ordinance,” which was passed back in 2002 and is directly aimed at the student population in the area of Isla Vista. Similar ordinances have been passed in other college towns across the country, including Iowa City, Iowa; East Lansing, Mich., and Bowling Green, Ohio.
One man spoke in favor of the ordinance; he thought it was a good law and explained that the only way to test it in Chico was to put it in action.
City Attorney Lori Barker is already working on changing some of the wording—in particular, the language that includes events that could qualify as “out of control,” including political demonstrations and carnivals. She also suggested eliminating the list of misdemeanors and infractions that could make an event “disorderly.” The revised version will be brought before the full council at its March 18 meeting.
Chico State professor Greg Tropea went as far as to hand the Internal Affair Committee—Vice Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilmen Tom Nickell and Steve Bertagna—a rewritten version of the ordinance that included protecting “civil rights” as well as the “peace, health, and welfare of the citizens of Chico.” Like others, Tropea prefaced his suggestions by calling the entire ordinance into question.
“I wish it had never happened, and I wish it would go away,” Tropea said. “But if it must live, then let it be caged.”