CHICO — As the Chico City Council convened the open session of its meeting Tuesday night, citizens filled the chambers to capacity. Many came to address the crisis in Gaza; a group of seniors with signs protesting rent increases lined the back wall.
Mayor Andrew Coolidge called a moment of silence to recognize the fifth anniversary of the Camp Fire — 85 seconds, one for each life lost — and presented proclamations and city arts awards. So far, so smooth; not for long.
Twenty-nine speakers put in cards for the public comment period, previously known as business from the floor. Coolidge set the time limit at one minute each and said while comments are “technically” open, council procedures limit topics to “issues within the purview of the City Council” that “can be addressed by the city of Chico, within the city of Chico.”
The first two citizens spoke about Chico issues (downtown and policing). The third requested a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
Councilor Tom van Overbeek raised a point of order that the subject “doesn’t impact business of the city.” Coolidge asked City Attorney John Lam for an interpretation; Lam advised that the item fell “outside the jurisdiction of the City Council.”
The speaker, Deya Ammar, disagreed, as did members of the audience. Utterances of protest prompted Coolidge to call a recess, which drew cries of “that’s deplorable,” “free speech” and “First Amendment” as the six councilors left the dais. (Deepika Tandon was absent.)
Tensions broke out during the recess: Kelli Johnson, wearing a police-style hat and carrying a sign saying “Jews for Palestine,” exchanged words with one of the rent sign bearers, Dave Donnan, and meeting regular Nichole Nava — the latter later singled out by Johnson with a derogatory sign and a subsequent meeting interruption.
After the councilors returned 10 minutes later, Coolidge restated his admonition. Nine of 10 speakers addressed the plight of Palestinians and Muslims, including discrimination locally, with a few quickly broaching the resolution.
But when Lynn Gonzalez expressly advocated for one, van Overbeek objected again — and Coolidge reinforced the rationale against considering the Gaza situation by noting, “You can call for us to do a resolution on anything.”
Gonzalez continued speaking, and Coolidge called another recess, resulting in a fresh set of outcries — “Shame on you”; “We’re asking for your help”; “Call for a cease fire now.” Another tense exchange ensued when frequent attendee Rob Berry, who also spoke later, rose from his aisle seat and briefly admonished the back of the room.
This recess lasted 20 minutes. “The next time we do this, unfortunately we’ll clear the chamber,” Coolidge said.
The first speaker back, Ed Tietz, discussed rent hikes in his mobile home park. The next spoke about Palestinians; the next, rents; the next, the resolution.
All told, 20 referenced Gaza, Palestinians and/or antisemitism; four spoke to rents. The comment period ended after 70 minutes, quieter than it started, apart from one late cry of “Free Palestine” from the lobby.
As half the room cleared, the session segued into the regular agenda. The council held a public hearing about changes to Meriam Park and considered new drones for the Chico Police Department and Measure H funding for parks and housing.
Meriam Park proposed a sixth amendment to its development agreement, which the Planning Commission approved Oct. 5. Changes include identifying the development’s two remaining residential builders, Webb Homes and Gonzales Development Co.; adjusting the number of residential units, including those for affordable housing; and revising due dates for the two parks in residential areas.
The biggest revision reduces the residential buildout from 2,300 units to 1,667. Developer Dan Gonzalez called the initial estimate “a best-case scenario” and cited market factors.
Berry questioned the reduction in light of city policies on housing; “I hope some clarity comes out of this situation.” Two others pushed to keep 345 affordable units versus the proposed 250, another to retain mixed-use development.
Van Overbeek moved to approve the amendment, seconded by Dale Bennett, and the council did so unanimously.
Chico Police Chief Billy Aldridge sought approval to replace two drones in the department’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program — a request that falls under state provisions for equipment considered military grade.
Chico police intends to procure two DJI drones, one Avata and one Mavic 3 Enterprise, in place of two units the department returned. To authorize the acquisition, a net cost of $6,300 already budgeted, the council needed to add the drones to the inventory of deployable military equipment reviewed annually under terms of Assembly Bill 481.
Four speakers spoke against further equipping Chico police with such devices; one spoke in favor. The request passed 5-1 with Addison Winslow dissenting.
After a normal break, councilors then heard a report from City Manager Mark Sorensen on Measure H funding. In setting the budget June 6, the council earmarked money for road repairs and public safety, but asked to revisit the allocations once the city received sales tax revenue to ascertain if any could go to park and housing projects.
Sorensen anticipates a $5 million balance at the end of the year and recommended half for a reserve. He said the parks division sketched out five projects totaling $1.7 million; Community Development Director Brendan Vieg suggested housing money could go to matching grant funds and rehabbing homes.
“It’s still so soon,” Bennett remarked, noting the city has just several months of data. “We’re starting to cut the pie before it’s even made yet.”
After two speakers offered opposing views, Councilor Sean Morgan called back to Bennett’s position and moved to table the discussion until the normal budget cycle. Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds seconded, but Winslow made a substitute motion seconded by Coolidge to bring back the discussion in January with specific proposals from the parks and housing divisions.
After the substitute motion failed 2-4, the first motion carried 4-2 with the same split, Coolidge and Winslow dissenting.
Harkening to earlier public comments, Reynolds requested the council put a discussion on regulations for mobile home parks on the agenda; Winslow seconded, and it passed 5-1 with Coolidge against.
The consent agenda (routine items typically enacted together) included electronic filing of claims, police contracts and sewer connections for Courtesy Motors in north Chico. Winslow voted against two — reducing the Climate Action Commission schedule to as-needed and adding bonuses for public safety recruitment — but the rest passed unanimously.
In closed session, the council received updates on the city’s Fire Victim Trust claim and the Warren v. Chico legal case. Lam reported that direction was given but no action taken.
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