City Council candidates take part in police-sponsored forum
An apparent surge in downtown homelessness and gang activity, out-of-control partying and an understaffed Chico Police Department in over its head are plaguing Chico. That was the dismal note struck during a Chico City Council candidates forum on Monday, Oct. 8.
The packed event, titled Public Safety: Policing and Crime in Chico, featured 10 of the 11 candidates running for the four open seats and was sponsored by the Chico Police Officers Association (CPOA) and an organization called the Chico Stewardship Network.
The candidates were incumbents Ann Schwab and Bob Evans, former Councilwoman Kimberly Rudisill, former candidate Dave Donnan and first-time challengers Andrew Coolidge, Dave Kelley, Sean Morgan, Tami Ritter, Toby Schindelbeck and Randall Stone. Not present was Lisa Duarte.
The audience at City Council chambers was filled with off-duty officers in their white and blue CPOA shirts, former Chief Mike Maloney and current Chief Kurt Trostle.
At the end of the two-hour event, which for the most part dealt with apparent rates of rising crime amid declining city revenues, Kelley, a longtime city planning commissioner, summed up the general theme of the evening with his closing statement: “Most of us have agreed on the main issues and their solutions here tonight.”
Questions were asked by three panelists: Steve Hoke, a financial adviser, Will Clark, president of the CPOA, and David Little, editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. The moderator was Jovanni Tricerri, director of the Chico Stewardship Network.
The “who we are” link on the network’s website says the group, in partnership with the Police Department, is “committed to the expansion of a strong people through the encouragement of individual and civic responsibility expressed as a partnership of citizen and institution in the People, Place and Economy spheres of our culture.”
Early on the candidates were questioned about the difficulties of policing major Chico celebrations notorious for unruly behavior, such as Halloween and the Labor Day float down the Sacramento River.
Kelley, who is an architect, said that tragedies like the recent Labor Day drowning of a young man tubing on the river are not acceptable. He acknowledged a need for better public-safety funding but cautioned that the problem is not entirely on the shoulders of the police. “People need to be responsible for their own actions,” he said.
Schwab, who serves as the city’s mayor, took issue with Kelley and admonished that “his answer wasn’t any answer at all.” She said an educational campaign on the dangers of tubing would help immeasurably and could save the $90,000 used on extra Labor Day law enforcement.
Ritter, an educator for the Family Violence Education Program and past executive director of the Torres Community Shelter and Habitat for Humanity, agreed with Kelley that emphasizing personal responsibility was key, as well as collaborating with Chico State.
Rudisill, a substitute teacher and a council member from 1994 to 1998 (when her last name was King), said she believed the problems presented by the annual river float were the result of a shortage of Chico police officers.
She and Donnan, a realtor, both said that other agencies such as the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office need to increase their presence. Rudisill also expressed skepticism about enforcing an alcohol ban during river floats.
Morgan, a Chico State business instructor, and Schindelbeck, a business owner and bodybuilder, both advocated for more police resources and stricter law enforcement as the solution.
“Give the Police Department the tools for shock and awe until the crazy partying goes away,” Morgan said.
Regarding the large number of homeless in the downtown, most candidates agreed that new ordinances were needed to prevent them from loitering, sleeping and defecating in front of businesses. Schindelbeck summarized the homeless as belonging to four categories: those down on their luck, the mentally ill, the adventurous street-life enthusiasts and, most dangerous of all, the Butte County Jail inmates released early due to overcrowding caused by the 2011 state law that transferred lower-risk state prisoners to county jails.
Evans, a retiree who formerly managed Lifetouch photography, drew raucous applause when he stressed that police should pressure “professionally homeless” travelers to leave town.
When asked where funding should come from to increase staffing for police and fire, Rudisill’s unique answer was to create a new tax specifically to benefit those two departments. Morgan said he believed money could be generated by charging for tourism, disc golf and visits to Bidwell Park. Donnan said police need the most funds, since 90 percent of calls to the fire department are not for fires but for medical incidents, which could be handled by the private sector. He also complained that city spending has gotten out of control.
“We’ve been running Chico like the New York Yankees instead of the Oakland A’s,” Donnan said, referring to the highest- and lowest-paid teams in baseball.
Schindelbeck ran into opposition from many of the candidates when he suggested using the city’s emergency reserve funds to bolster the police budget. “Emergency reserves should only be used for emergencies,” Schwab insisted.
Coolidge, a public-relations business owner who hosts local home and garden shows, summed up the attitude of most candidates when he said the Police Department is the most important department in the city.
The forum ended with applause after encouraging words from Clark.
“If you see a police officer on the street who’s not busy, take time to say ‘thank you for your service,’” he said. “And exercise your right to vote on Nov. 6.”
The following night the same 10 candidates faced off at the Marie Callender’s restaurant in a forum sponsored by the local Tea Party group. The theme there centered on improving Chico’s business climate and whether privatizing city jobs would be wise. The responses to that questioned ranged from strong agreement (Schindelbeck and Morgan) to maybe some (Schwab) to absolutely not (Rudisill).
Schindelbeck said that Chico has a reputation for being unfriendly to and driving off businesses, something with which Stone, a local builder and business investor, strongly disagreed.
“Chico is a fantastic place to do business,” Stone countered, “unlike what Toby said.”