The next chapter

Chico Scrap Metal opponents launch referendum campaign

After voting Tuesday, Saira Siddiqui and Hajra Masood sign a petition for the referendum effort to move Chico Scrap Metal.

After voting Tuesday, Saira Siddiqui and Hajra Masood sign a petition for the referendum effort to move Chico Scrap Metal.

Photo by Ken Smith

Early on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 8), Ellen Galena drove past her assigned polling station en route to another neighborhood’s voting location, the Chico branch of the Butte County Library. Though eager to cast her ballot for this year’s contentious general election, her focus that morning was on the November 2018 election.

Galena was one of several volunteers who had signed on to launch a petition drive aimed at gathering the roughly 8,000 signatures necessary to put the fate of Chico Scrap Metal (CSM) into the hands of Chico voters via referendum. The effort is organized by environmentalist group Move the Junkyard and comes on the heels of an Oct. 18 decision by the Chico City Council to allow the recycling business to stay at its East 20th Street location.

The move comes near the end of a particularly eventful year in the decade-plus CSM saga. Zoning changes enacted by the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan made the business out of compliance with the neighborhood, and the council ordered it to move in 2006. The business received a series of extensions through December 2014, and in January 2015 a newly elected conservative-majority council voted to explore a compromise to allow the business to stay put. The council approved a plan in CSM’s favor earlier this year with a 4-to-3 vote split down party lines, but a mistake by city staff in the plan’s wording led to another round of deliberation before last month’s decision.

“There’s a strong tradition in Chico of initiatives and referendums, and I think we need to put more issues in front of local voters to get a real sense of things,” said Move the Junkyard spokesman Karl Ory. He believes last month’s council decision to approve CSM’s permanency was pushed through by the conservative majority in case Tuesday’s election resulted in a shift of power to progressives.

Ory said that a successful petition drive could trigger a special election, but that the group agreed the most prudent approach would be to shoot for 2018’s November election.

Tuesday was a busy one for Ory; in addition to being Move the Junkyard’s primary organizer, it also was the day of reckoning for his own council bid (see page 10). Move the Junkyard was preparing to launch a referendum effort back in May, but aborted plans when the mistake in the ordinance was discovered.

Ellen Galena collects signatures on Election Day.

Photo by Ken Smith

“We decided to do this four days ago, and I just dropped off the petitions at the printer,” Ory said by phone on Monday. His plan then was to distribute materials to volunteers that night and Tuesday morning before a 7:15 a.m. radio appearance promoting the petition drive on KZFR 90.1 FM. Then he’d continue campaigning—for himself and the referendum effort—throughout the day.

“The one silver lining of the timing is that others have had positive experiences collecting a large number of valid signatures from registered voters by petitioning at polling places,” he said. “It gets difficult this time of year, with depleted funds, exhausted campaigners and possible sloggy weather. We have until Nov. 30 to collect the signatures, but I think we need to wrap it up before Thanksgiving, which is a really short period of time.”

At the library on Election Day, volunteer Galena set up a table on the sidewalk before 8 a.m. She said volunteers were briefed about maintaining the legal, 100-foot distance from the polling place. Butte County election officials had measured the distance that morning to ensure she was in compliance. Galena said she was asking for signatures only from people who approached her, and only after they’d voted or finished their library business.

“My daughter went to Chapman Elementary as part of the Spanish immersion program, so I’ve been following the issue since [CSM] was first supposed to move,” Galena said of her reason for volunteering. “I believe that it should move as was written in the neighborhood plan, so I’m here to support getting it on the 2018 ballot.”

By 9 a.m., Galena said she’d already gathered about 50 signatures and that most people she’d spoken to were familiar with the issue, and many expressed strong opinions:

“There’s been a handful of people who’ve said they want it moved, and a handful that really don’t think it should,” she said.

Just then, a woman approached with questions about the deep history of the issue, some of which Galena couldn’t answer. The woman criticized Galena and a man signing the petition, to which the man responded his only opinion on the matter was that the issue should be put to voters.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” the woman said as she left.

Ory said that Move the Junkyard volunteers will be collecting more signatures at the Chico Certifed Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. More information about Move the Junkyard can be found on the group’s Facebook page.