‘Sad’ election stunt

Chico Citizens make a statement with frown faces at the City Council meeting

Frown faces popped up here and there throughout the Chico City Council’s meeting.

Frown faces popped up here and there throughout the Chico City Council’s meeting.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Chico City Council chambers were pretty packed at the start of the panel’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening (Sept. 7). Many of those in attendance bore a striking resemblance to one another. In fact, dozens were nearly identical.

It wasn’t clear until the end of the meeting who had orchestrated the demonstration that began on the steps outside of the building with about 50 people holding sad faces fashioned out of simple white paper plates attached to paint-stirring sticks. What was clear was that the crafty folks behind the stunt were trying to send a message that they were unhappy with many of the council members’ decisions and wanted change.

Appearing like something a kindergartener might construct, the simply drawn faces were repeatedly held up during certain portions of discussions, beginning with an item on the consent agenda pulled by Councilman Larry Wahl. The panel’s lame-duck councilman, who joins the Butte County Board of Supervisors in January, sought further discussion about the city’s historic-preservation ordinance prior to its final reading and adoption.

The ordinance would establish a five-member Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board responsible for reviewing and making determinations on all applications of property owners seeking to carry out major alterations or demolitions of any structures listed in the city’s so-called Historical Resources Inventory.

Wahl echoed the comments he made about a month ago at a public hearing in which he cast the lone dissenting vote when the ordinance was approved. His contention then—and again this time around—is that the city is overstepping its bounds by including properties on the inventory without owner consent. “It’s very difficult to get out of this thing, even though [some homeowners] never wanted in,” he said.

Bob Kromer, a conservative running for a council seat this November, urged the panel to push back action until July. He suggested the city should instead make its case to homeowners that the program is beneficial, and then let them choose whether to participate. “My problem with the ordinance is that it’s not voluntary,” said Kromer, who was a part of the frown-face brigade. (Fellow council candidate Mark Sorensen was also with the group.)

But the rest of the council members remained supportive of adopting it, eliciting raised frown faces from the audience.

“We made a reasoned decision for the benefit of the community as a whole,” said Councilman Andy Holcombe as he explained part of the rationale for the decision.

The faces appeared again during an update on the development of the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Climate change is already a polarizing issue, but in Chico the topic really heated up the month before the 2006 City Council election. That’s when the council—urged on by then-Mayor Scott Gruendl—signed onto the locally controversial U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. That move signaled a commitment on the part of the city to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Linda Herman, the city’s administrative manager, noted during the meeting that Chico is in no way mandated to implement a CAP. Rather, the council has chosen to take steps to reduce emissions.

During a presentation on the plan, recent Chico State graduate Fletcher Alexander, who is working with the university’s Institute for Sustainable Development as an analyst, explained that the plan is to take action in three phases, with the eventual goal of mitigating the annual production of approximately 316,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. He presented a cost-benefit analysis for the first phase indicating that the price tags associated with the reduction measures (nearly all of which are grant funded or already approved) will see full payback through cost savings in less than seven years.

Still, Wahl asked what exactly would be accomplished: “Will the sky be bluer? Will anything be prettier?” he asked.

Gruendl responded that the plan will make Chico a leader, and it also will lead to savings. “In this day and age, it is exactly what we should be doing for the community,” he said.

The panel subsequently voted 6-1 (with Wahl dissenting) to conceptually approve the first phase of the plan and to direct the city’s Sustainability Task Force to continue its work creating a draft CAP for the council’s consideration.

Turns out the group behind the signs was Concerned Citizens of Chico, which stirred up controversy last fall with its unscientific “survey” of local attitudes toward the council. It’s led by Karen Zinniel, who spoke at the end of the meeting, though by that time just a handful of her supporters remained. Zinniel lamented the city’s wasteful spending, citing the $42,000 spent in her neighborhood to bulb corners on Oleander Avenue.

She told the council her group would be working to elect council members who listen to their constituents.

“We are tired of our opinions being ignored,” she said.