Referendum rising

If the City Council won’t make Chico Scrap Metal relocate, Move the Junkyard group hopes voters will

Move the Junkyard has held several rallies outside the gates of Chico Scrap Metal demanding the business move. This one was Dec. 31, 2015.

Move the Junkyard has held several rallies outside the gates of Chico Scrap Metal demanding the business move. This one was Dec. 31, 2015.

CN&R file photo

Robyn DiFalco was disappointed and a bit confused by the Chico City Council’s 4-to-3 vote on May 3 to allow Chico Scrap Metal to continue operations on East 20th Street, but she wasn’t surprised.

“I feared that would be the outcome of the vote, but it’s also what we expected,” said DiFalco, who’s been acting as the spokeswoman for the Move the Junkyard group since she stepped down as executive director of the Butte Environmental Council in March.

“I felt like the [members of the] public who spoke gave very compelling arguments about why it was important to uphold the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan and move the junkyard,” she continued. “I don’t think [the conservative council members] clearly explained their reasoning why it should stay, and I don’t think they showed good leadership about how to solve the problem.”

Lacking confidence in the City Council’s decision-making, DiFalco and her Move the Junkyard cohorts are now looking to the residents of Chico. The group has already started spreading the word about and fundraising for a referendum effort that would let citizens vote on the recycler’s fate in November.

The council’s recent vote was to approve a development agreement that includes aesthetic changes, operational guidelines and the removal of a 2006 order for the business to move. Chico Scrap Metal has been operating out of compliance with zoning laws established by the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan and the city’s general plan for more than a decade. In December 2014, just before the business’ last extension to move expired, Councilman Andrew Coolidge proposed—and the council approved—a plan to allow the business to keep operating as its owners prepared a pitch to stay permanently.

The road to getting the referendum qualified in time for the November ballot is short. A second reading of the council’s decision will be done at the panel’s next regular meeting on Tuesday (May 17), after which the recycler’s opponents will have 30 days to gather thousands of signatures to qualify the referendum.

Complicating the petition process is the fact that signatures can’t be collected from those who live closest to Chico Scrap Metal, as the Chapman-Mulberry neighborhood lies in a pocket of unincorporated county. The city voted in 2015 to annex the area, but it will take several years to complete that process.

One of the things Move the Junkyard has going for it is that several of the group’s organizers were behind another referendum effort back in 2014 that sought to keep the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market in the parking lot at Second and Wall streets. At the time, the city, prompted by claims from some downtown business owners that the Saturday event caused parking problems and negatively impacted their commerce, threatened not to extend the market’s franchise agreement. Market supporters gathered the requisite signatures, but the issue never went to voters because the city conceded and signed a new agreement.

Move the Junkyard organizers used the emails they gathered during that effort to draw people to the May 3 council meeting, and they’ve already begun email blasts calling attention to the new referendum.

DiFalco is confident the group can rally the necessary support: “The residents of Chapman unfortunately don’t have a voice in this, but I’ve seen and heard many people in our community say that that isn’t right, and that they’ll come out to speak up for them.”

DiFalco said the campaign could cost upward of $20,000, and that the group has already raised about $2,500. Move the Junkyard has started a crowdfunding campaign at (search “Move the Junkyard”).

At the May 3 meeting, Mayor Mark Sorensen classified the Chico Scrap Metal debacle as a no-win situation, saying he anticipated a referendum if the council didn’t make the scrap yard move and a lawsuit from its owners if it did. After making a motion to approve Chico Scrap Metal’s plan to stay, he directed city staff to look into other solutions, such as finding funds to help the recycler move.

DiFalco said she doubted staff could find a solution in two weeks to an issue that’s plagued city politics for nearly 20 years.

Contacted for more information about the mayor’s marching orders, Community Development Director Mark Wolfe said this week that his department had yet to meet with the mayor or other council members for further instruction. He said city staff was “brainstorming,” but that he didn’t have any possible solutions to report.