Restrooms, recycling and more

Council OKs 24-hour lavatories in City Plaza, lets scrap metal operation stay put

City Plaza restrooms will be open day and night—at least temporarily—to allow homeless individuals a place to relieve themselves.

City Plaza restrooms will be open day and night—at least temporarily—to allow homeless individuals a place to relieve themselves.

CN&R File Photo

“Color me skeptical,” Chico Mayor Mark Sorensen said at the City Council meeting Tuesday (May 17) before voting to support a plan to keep City Plaza restrooms open 24 hours a day on a trial basis.

Sorensen doubted that the restrooms would be used only as intended. He suspected they also would be used for illicit purposes. “This won’t be the end of it,” he said.

The plan, which also includes keeping Bidwell Park restrooms open seven days a week, is in recognition of the dilemma posed by the council’s decision in March to criminalize urination and defecation on public property: If homeless people need to relieve themselves, where can they go if there are no open restrooms in the city?

The council had punted the stinky issue to its Internal Affairs Committee. Working with Public Works staff, the IAC came up with several recommendations designed to address this longstanding issue.

As mentioned, park restrooms would be open every day, with city employees and a private janitorial service sharing cleaning duties through Labor Day. Also, some $25,000 in capital project savings would be used to upgrade the plaza restrooms to accommodate 24-hour use, and the city would pay the Downtown Chico Business Association’s Cleanup Brigade $10,000 to do one more cleanup each day. The brigade is a group of homeless people trying to work their way into housing; it has been responsible for cleanups following DCBA events at the plaza and reportedly has done a good job.

The sticking point was the potential for late-hour illicit use of the plaza restrooms. Police Chief Mike O’Brien said he was concerned.

Nevertheless, the council voted to try it for 90 days and assess its success every 30 days. Erik Gustafson, the city’s public works director-operations and maintenance, said he hoped to start the remodeling in late June.

When it comes to moving Chico Scrap Metal from its current location, “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Councilman Randall Stone said.

That’s because, as council members readily acknowledge, the city has botched the situation in several ways.

First, back in the 1980s, it compelled the business to move from its former location on Humboldt to its current site on East 20th Street, which at the time was on the edge of town—but close to Chapman Elementary School and the Chapmantown neighborhood.

Then, in 2004, the city adopted the county-created Chapman/Mulberry Neighborhood Plan and subsequently called for the amortization (read: gradual removal) of the business. It and the county also promised to assist financially in that removal.

That assistance never happened, even though at the time the city was rolling in redevelopment money. Then the recession hit, and the city was broke.

City staff members were never told to look for other ways to fund CSM’s move. Instead, the city set deadlines for removal that CSM ignored. And the city allowed Habitat for Humanity to build several new homes next door to the scrap yard, promising that the company would move.

Instead, CSM is staying put. On Tuesday, council members approved the final reading of two ordinances approved on May 3 that remove CSM from amortization and OK a development agreement between the business and the city. The vote was 4-3 in both instances, with Ann Schwab, Tami Ritter and Stone dissenting.

The agreement gives the city greater regulatory control over CSM and requires the recycler to make numerous on-site improvements, including a new perimeter fence and vegetation.

Members of the ad hoc group Move the Junkyard, who believe that CSM produces wind-borne toxins that drift into Chapmantown, made a final, desperate attempt to convince the council to hold off in order to give city staff time to come up with a win-win alternative.

But the four council members who approved the ordinances May 3—Reanette Fillmer, Andrew Coolidge, Vice Mayor Sean Morgan and Sorensen—stood firm. Sorensen said forcing CSM to move constituted a “one-sided taking” and was probably illegal.

“We hear a lot about promises,” he said. “Yeah, promises made with somebody else’s property.”

In other council news: Chico residents who get a new roof, install solar panels or otherwise need a “miscellaneous” building permit will pay more for same in the future. The council voted unanimously to hike the fees to capture 100 percent of the city’s permitting costs and thereby add $200,000 to $300,000 annually to the Private Development Fund.

The council also unanimously approved a creative plan to assist the Torres Community Shelter that will change the lease agreement with Torres to allow it to rent out its large commercial kitchen. It also approved the creation of a corporate giving program among city employees, some of whom no doubt would elect to give their money to the shelter.

Finally, at Stone’s request, council members agreed to consider adopting an ordinance requiring massage parlors to obtain permits. The idea is that, by requiring fingerprinting and background checks, the city will drive out those parlors that are fronts for prostitution. Stone said there are at least 13 such parlors in Chico whose sex workers are being held against their will.

The council voted unanimously to refer the issue to its Internal Affairs Committee.