The problem with SUVs

Do you haul your groceries and family pet around town in an Escalade, Navigator or a Suburban? If so, you could be facing a $1,000 fine every time you drive in Chico, unless you’re on a designated truck route.

That’s because the city municipal code prohibits vehicles exceeding three-tons from a vast majority of Chico streets.

Obviously, with all the big SUVs running around town, this creates an awkward situation. This week the Chico City Council discussed the matter at its Sept. 21 meeting with the aim of approving an amendment that would bring the city law into line with the county vehicle weight limit, which allows for a hefty seven tons.

The city code was written in the 1980s, well before the onslaught of today’s gas guzzling behemoths. Back then, the biggest passenger car was a station wagon, and the really big trucks were used only for commercial purposes.

The council was forced to discuss the matter without one of its members, Steve Bertagna, because Bertagna drives a truck that exceeds the three-ton limit by about two tons. Councilmembers by law may not discuss matters that they could affect them financally.

The weight limit is in place to minimize the damage done to city streets by everyday use. Streets decay enough as it is just by natural causes, and enormous vehicles add to the damage.

Fritz McKinley, the city’s public works director, said the streets could handle the added weight, at least those built in the 18 years he’s been working for the city.

Resident and bicycle enthusiast Ed McLaughin called for a better fix for the problem.

“Not all streets surely can handle 14,000 pounds,” he said

A motion to move the code amendment forward was passed with on a 4-1-1 vote, with Councilmember Scott Gruendl voting no. Gruendl said he believes that there should be more information available before approval.