Calmer council

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Chico City Council was in stark contrast to those of the past few years, at least after then-Mayor Sean Morgan passed the gavel to Randall Stone and bid farewell to his conservative brethren.

As new council members Alex Brown—a surprise lock (6-1) for vice mayor—Scott Huber and Kasey Reynolds were sworn in and took their seats, a strange calm seemed to settle over the dais. And while discussion was thorough and disagreements voiced, everyone appeared to be largely on the same page. (Case in point: several unanimous votes.)

Part of that calm can be attributed to the tasks at hand—namely, approving an emergency housing ordinance and reducing fees for accessory dwelling units, both aimed at providing living spaces for those displaced by the Camp Fire. Before addressing those issues directly, City Manager Mark Orme provided an update on how the Camp Fire has affected Chico.

“Chico has seen a lot of impacts,” he said. “When you drive around, you see increased traffic. That’s a really big issue we’ve been having to deal with. … We are the base camp for FEMA, Cal OES, the American Red Cross. … We’ve really helped to ensure all those entities doing the yeoman’s work are housed appropriately.

“We’ve also been the donation epicenter—there have been a tremendous amount of donations—and the primary location for the [Disaster Resource Center]. And we’re the home away from home for the town of Paradise—we’ve given them [space in] our old municipal office building, they utilize these chambers. We’re doing our best to accommodate all this, but there are a tremendous amount of impacts.”

Councilwoman Ann Schwab emphasized that while managing this crisis, the city must take into account both Paradise residents and Chicoans, too. She proposed a community meeting for everyone to get up-to-date information and also to offer ideas on how to address this unprecedented new need.

“I’m concerned that people who lived in Paradise but worked in Chico may not have housing—or may decide to relocate. That’s very important to us,” she said. “We all have to work together to find these solutions. As a City Council, we need to make sure our community is being supported as well. This is a watershed moment for all of us. There will be a ‘before the fire’ and ‘after the fire.’”

The emergency housing ordinance, which was approved unanimously after a full (and lengthy) reading by City Clerk Debbie Presson, will streamline the process of approving temporary housing projects such as RV parks while decreasing development impact fees by two-thirds. The ordinance will come back to the council in six months for revision, but the temporary housing would be allowed for five years.

“What we’re seeing currently are large employers who have employees who have been affected by the fire,” said Brendan Vieg, deputy director of the Community Development Department. “We’re also in coordination with Paradise charter schools that are trying to fit into nooks and crannies.”

Vieg emphasized that projects still will have requirements for setbacks, lighting, parking and utilities.

There was a bit more contention surrounding the recommended changes to requirements for accessory dwelling units. For one, the council just reduced impact fees by 50 percent a few months ago; staff now recommends reducing them by half again. Huber suggested foregoing fees altogether to stimulate building. “If we really want to make a lot happen quickly, we need to pull out the stops,” he said.

Morgan suggested maintaining the requirement for owner occupancy, something that staff recommended doing away with. Speaker Ken Fleming had broached the subject during public comments, saying eliminating that provision would incentivize the rental market, in particular large property owners. “Getting rid of that helps exactly the people who don’t need it,” he said. “And it eliminates the relationship between the owner and the individuals who live there.”

After some cordial back-and-forth, the council voted to move forward with amending ADU requirements, with discussion—including a future public hearing—to include elimination of fees as well as the owner occupancy issue.

In other council news: The panel will reconsider rules regarding nominations for boards and commissions (passed with a 5-to-2 vote, with Morgan and Reynolds dissenting), as well as Simplicity Village (6-1, with Morgan the sole “nay”).