Pull up a sidewalk

Council says no to sit/lie ordinance

James Moody stands outside the City Council chambers collecting signatures and handing out fliers against the city’s proposed sit/lie ordinance, which was voted down later in the evening.

James Moody stands outside the City Council chambers collecting signatures and handing out fliers against the city’s proposed sit/lie ordinance, which was voted down later in the evening.

Photo By tom gascoyne

For Chico City Councilman Randall Stone, a proposed ordinance making it illegal to sit or lie on downtown sidewalks failed for many reasons, but none more so than this: Whenever a citation was challenged, a police officer would have to go to court.

“So we’d have to take an officer off the street to defend a citation [whose fine] probably won’t be paid?” he asked, shaking his head in puzzlement. “… If we pass this, it will be one of the dumbest things we’ve done in years.”

To the other council members who voted against the ordinance—Mary Goloff, Tami Ritter and Mayor Scott Gruendl—and the more than 15 citizens who spoke against it at the council’s meeting Tuesday (Aug. 20), it was constitutionally challenged because it would “selectively target particular groups,” as Greg Burton, of the local ACLU chapter, charged. Others said it was, in a word, “unworkable.”

The ordinance was written at the request of downtown business owners, who believe the “explosion of transients” in the area, as one person put it, is keeping customers away. Citations would result in fines starting at $100 and going up with repeat offenses.

One owner, Greg Strong, told the council that the negative impacts caused by loiterers affect the “public perception of the way downtown has been going in the last few years.”

Councilman Sean Morgan and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen agreed, arguing that, as Morgan put it, “We need to do something. We need to start somewhere.”

Saying the city “can’t do nothing about the anti-social, aberrant behavior” of some downtown transients, Sorensen moved for passage of the ordinance, and Morgan seconded.

The pro argument was that the ordinance provided police with “another tool in their toolbox” to help keep downtown businesses viable. It would apply only to sidewalks, supporters argued, and would require that offenders first be given a warning. People would still be able to sit or lie down anywhere off the sidewalk, including City Plaza.

But a majority of the council believed that the current Clean and Safe Chico campaign should be given more time to work. In the long run, they said, providing services will do more good than fining people who don’t have any money anyway.

Sorensen’s motion failed, 2-4, with Councilwoman Ann Schwab recusing herself because she co-owns a downtown business.

Groups green-lighted: Because of recent staff layoffs, City Clerk Deborah Presson asked council members what they wanted to do about the Arts Commission and the Sustainability Task Force, both of which were in a state of limbo. The former recently lost its coordinator, Mary Gardner, and the latter recently was reorganized.

After much discussion, and hearing from more than a dozen people extolling the value of both groups, council members agreed that the city didn’t have the money to restore Gardner’s position but would free up other staffers to assist the Arts Commission for as long as it takes to get the Chico Arts Foundation running smoothly.

The idea is that the foundation will raise the funding to support the commission long-term, and that the commission ultimately will become independent of the city. But several people noted that it is extremely difficult to obtain outside arts funding if the city isn’t strongly supporting, financially and otherwise, the Arts Commission.

The council did agree to move forward with the Sustainability Task Force and select its seven members at the next meeting. They also decided that the STF should be a subset of the Planning Commission and will remain in existence at least for as long as it takes to finish implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan.

City shies away from highway widening: For nearly a decade the city has been working to widen Highway 32 from the freeway east to El Monte Avenue in anticipation of growth in the area.

But this week, as bulldozers were preparing the ground for the 1,300-unit Oak Valley subdivision off Highway 32 just east of Bruce Road, council members decided they were feeling “too risk-averse” to move forward.

Although the work will have to be done someday and the city stood to lose its grants, its favorable bid on the project and its environmental permits, the council decided not to select any of the possible funding options presented by staff, citing the city’s straitened budget condition. Instead it issued a challenge to developers: Come up with $3.5 million in pledges against future impact fees in the next month, and we’ll move ahead.

Good luck with that.