Pot, noise and art

Supervisors consider varied and controversial issues

Pat Macias, board president for monCA, said the museum will benefit the larger community.

Pat Macias, board president for monCA, said the museum will benefit the larger community.

Photo By Ken Smith

As Butte County’s supervisors and community members grappled through two hot-button issues at Tuesday (Feb. 26) morning’s board meeting, the groundwork was laid for another big battle, this one over a more unexpected controversy.

The board’s votes on ordinances regarding medi-pot cultivation and noise levels were the obvious reasons for a standing-room-only crowd at the meeting, but a just-beginning battle over the proposed home of a Chico art museum also attracted dozens of citizens. In the end, the supervisors decided to postpone action on the item until March 26.

The panel voted 4-1 in favor of adopting the new medical-marijuana cultivation ordinance with some minor changes on Feb. 12 (See Newslines, “Back on the pot,” Feb. 14, 2013), and the vote was the same at this meeting, with all supervisors except Larry Wahl voting in favor.

Dozens of community members—many of whom have spoken at previous meetings—approached the podium to voice their approval or disapproval of the regulations, which will take effect in 30 days. Much of the criticism from community members against cultivation focused on those who profit from large pot grows, cause environmental damage, or commit other crimes related to marijuana as an illegal cash crop. In closing, Supervisor Bill Connelly reiterated the ordinance applies only to medical marijuana, and everything else is still criminal.

“In no way do I or any of the board members condone marijuana for sale,” he said. “This is supposed to be facilitating the letter of [Proposition] 215 that marijuana is going to be used for medicine. Nothing in this ordinance gives anybody the right to sell marijuana, export it out of the county or anything.”

Following the pot discussion, there was relatively little noise over the noise ordinance, which the board approved unanimously. Connelly asked that there be some exceptions made to allow people to shoot guns safely on their property in rural areas, while Supervisor Doug Teeter, a self-proclaimed off-road enthusiast, asked that exceptions be made for off-road vehicles. The ordinance was passed with a caveat that some recreational activities be afforded exemptions.

The ordinance limits sound levels by maximum noise and average decibels per hour, and rates are based on location (urban and non urban) and time of day.

Though it postponed making a decision, the board still heard public comment on whether the Museum of Northern California Art (monCA) should be allowed to lease the original Veterans Memorial Hall at 900 Esplanade. That building has been vacant since 2005. The opposition to the project comes from some residents of the neighborhood who believe that museum patrons will bring traffic, parking and other problems.

“That particular neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chico, and from the perspective of someone who’s lived there it’s the only historic neighborhood near the university that has not been trashed,” said Ken Fleming, a neighborhood resident. “We want to keep it that way, and are quite concerned that this project will push our neighborhood over the top.”

Fleming called it a “very difficult situation,” giving kudos to the museum’s organizers and donors but saying his only problem with the project was its location. Fleming’s wife, Melinda Vasquez, reiterated his argument in more dramatic terms, saying the museum would have a high impact on a fragile neighborhood.

“Just look at the south of campus, which has been trashed, which is violent,” Vasquez said. “We’ve seen it. We have our fingers in the dike.”

Pat Macias, board president for monCA—which lacking a home gallery sets up “pop up” exhibitions—disagreed.

“A museum is a low-impact venue,” she told the supervisors. “It’s a place for education, it’s a place for exhibition, and it’s a place for preservation of art. It’s not a place for parties or hundreds of people to be at one time.”

Supporter Barbara Morris also questioned the museum’s impact on the neighborhood.

“Though we’re very excited about Fleming’s idea that we’ll have such a huge impact, the reality is our museums often struggle,” she said, noting that it’s not uncommon to park elsewhere and walk to museums. “We have problems with parking all the time. I don’t think it’s something that should make or break this deal.”