Disaster response continues

CN&R File photo

City park reservation fees—for events like the Chico Bicycle Music Festival in Cedar Grove—are slated to increase significantly for the first time in 27 years.

It has been 15 months since the Camp Fire, but the magnitude of the disaster has necessitated that the city of Chico continue considering ways to respond, including by facilitating an increase in housing.

This was a major theme of Tuesday’s (Feb. 11) City Council meeting, which started with the council vetting a project proposed by resident Linda Myers, who planned to temporarily house survivors of the Camp Fire. She was seeking to place four RVs on her 2-acre property on Godman Avenue in northeast Chico for a period of three years, with the possibility for extensions.

City staff approved the project under the city’s disaster recovery ordinance, which allows for such temporary dwellings in certain zoning districts until April 16, 2024. However, it was appealed by Myers’ neighbors John and Sheryl Russell.

The couple and a few other neighbors shared concerns regarding noise, traffic, unsightliness and the potential for a permanent development. Several asked the city to add a stipulation that assures only survivors can live there.

Part of the debate centered on Myers’ character and management capabilities. The appellants’ attorney, Paul Minasian, alleged that the project was not for humanitarian reasons, but to create a “derelict RV lot” development under the guise of disaster relief. “How are we going to make sure that this really works for people that are victimized by the fire and no one else?” he asked the council.

Myers replied by saying that her vision for the project, which she charges will cost her thousands of dollars to set up, is to help her friends.

“If I was going to do a development, I would do a subdivision, not four RVs that will most likely belong to friends of mine that need places to stay while their houses are getting rebuilt,” she said.

City code enforcement is complaint driven, but would respond (and, if necessary, levy fines) if the RVs are not removed when the ordinance sunsets, said Tony Lindsey, community development director of building and code enforcement. As for proof of Ridge residency, city staff said that is difficult to verify, and the ordinance was put in place to help house renters throughout the region who were displaced in the aftermath of the fire as well.

The conversation was reminiscent of one that occurred back in April, when another Chico resident fought to allow up to four RVs at her property on Royce Lane after neighbors appealed the project, and she received the support of the council. At the time, it was the second of such permits to be pulled—Myers’ is the 14th.

Ultimately, the council approved her application 5-0. (Councilwoman Kasey Reynolds, who arrived late, abstained, and Councilman Sean Morgan was absent.)

Mayor Randall Stone commented afterward that these kinds of situations are tough, “and the neighborhood trauma is absolutely difficult.”

He concluded: “If we can get housing for people, that’s a significant drive for a project like that.”

That night, the council also voted on another item related to the Camp Fire, endorsing a letter calling for $1 billion in disaster housing relief and recovery from the state. The letter has support from many housing agencies, including the Community Housing Improvement Program, and municipalities such as the city of Oroville.

The letter asks for one-time funding for rehousing and rebuilding, and minimizing future natural disasters in California, given the “unprecedented and catastrophic” wildfires of 2017-18, which wiped out 28,000 homes across 11 counties, causing a half-trillion dollars in economic losses.

Another topic concerning housing related to the city’s homeless population. Safe Space Winter Shelter had to close mid-season this month, and may be forced to close early due to a lack of facilities in which to serve its approximately 60 nightly guests, including disabled and elderly folks with health issues (see “Closure imminent,” Newslines, Jan. 30).

Stone, a board member of the nonprofit seasonal shelter, proposed that the council discuss a game plan for “how we might be able to bridge that gap” during times of crisis for any organization, not just Safe Space. The panel voted unanimously (sans Morgan) to have a future discussion.

In other news, city park reservation fees are slated to increase significantly for the first time in 27 years, starting this July. Per the recommendation of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, the council also approved moving forward on some policy updates, distinguishing reservations (i.e., gatherings with less than 150 people) from special events (i.e., 150-plus guests, or special activities, such as weddings and walks/runs).

Key changes include: eliminating the $19 application processing fee for reservations, refunding all fees due to inclement weather, creating a free special use permit for research projects and docent-led walks/bike rides, creating a permit and fee for commercial filming in city parks, and establishing a non-refundable $40 permit fee for special events (but eliminating the $40 insurance review fee).

Staff will bring back an ordinance and city fee schedule amendment for council approval.

Also on Tuesday, the council approved a salary increase. Airport Manager Sherry Miller is retiring, effective May 1. In the meantime, the city is searching for her replacement. Erik Gustafson, public works director of operations and maintenance, told the CN&R that Miller has done an excellent job—the city is seizing this opportunity to flesh out economic development as a key focus of the position, including encouraging economic growth at the airport’s industrial park and pursuing commercial air service. The salary range is $79,000-$109,000, an 8.5 percent increase.