As the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday night (Oct. 19) came to order, with council members’ attire saluting Chico and Pleasant Valley high schools ahead of Friday’s Almond Bowl football game, youth made their presence known on a more serious matter.
A handful of Chico State students and a professor—Mark Stemen, a member of the city’s Climate Action Commission—brought in signs and a banner they’d displayed outside and set themselves in the back of the room, in direct view of the dais.
They came to demonstrate support for the updated Climate Action Plan (or CAP) drafted by the commission. Mandated by state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the plan requires approval from the council, which has authority over its contents.
The contingent, from the activist group Chico for Climate Action, were among eight speakers and three online commenters who made cases for the council to ratify the CAP as submitted by the commission—a panel that conservative council members had voted to downgrade to a committee Sept. 21 before reversing course at the last meeting, Oct. 5.
Student Chelsea Barron told council members that compared to the plan’s proposals, “the cost of doing nothing is so much more.” Stemen invoked Thomas Jefferson in calling climate change “generational tyranny, because the people in power will not be around to suffer the consequences of their decisions”—and, citing research finding anxiety over climate adversely affects 45 percent of young people, he added: “This distress is linked to their governments’ failure to respond to the crisis.”
In the end, though, the CAP got approved with minimal discussion on the dais and a 7-0 vote and proved to be the least contentious item of the night. Council members later bristled at a consultant’s report on parking in the neighborhood surrounding Enloe Medical Center (more below) and at strategic planning vision statements crafted by the previous council, sending both back to the drawing board. Councilwoman Alex Brown, the lone progressive, dissented on a consent agenda item regarding pay and benefits for police officers, with 5 percent salary increases for three years, and on a direction for staff to write a letter for the council requesting state support for mental health and drug treatment.
As for the unanimity over the CAP, Mayor Andrew Coolidge said by phone this morning (Oct. 20), “I think the reason why it passed with no issues is it’s pretty much on what the state guidelines are, what the state is doing. So, given that people were maybe against a few items in principle or thought that maybe they were too aggressive, it really in the end wouldn’t matter because the state was going down that path anyway.”
Barron, a senior at Chico State and coordinator of Chico for Climate Action, told the CN&R that she anticipated the CAP’s passage coming off momentum from the climate commission vote, which followed community outcry.
“I think the city just wanted to move forward and didn’t want to hear how they were doing something wrong again,” she said.
Coolidge said the decisions were independent: “I don’t think one necessarily led to the other. I think you would have had the same result regardless of what happened at the prior meeting.”
The CAP addresses requirements for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2045. Chico is on track for a 27 percent reduction by 2030; the plan update recommends additional measures such as alternative energy sources, compact urban planning and more infrastructure for bicycles and public transportation.
“Something that really excites me is community aggregation,” Barron said, “where Chico will rely on its own power going forward. That’s amazing.”
The discussion about Enloe parking grew chippy, but in a break from precedent, most of the ire was not directed at the hospital. Instead, speakers and council members alike expressed disdain for consultant Dixon Resources Unlimited and the plan stemming from two years’ work.
“I could see why the consultant wouldn’t want to be here, because their report is bad,” Councilman Sean Morgan said on the dais, after a series of critical comments about conclusions drawn from old data points and two small surveys of neighbors and Enloe employees.
The plan proposed a “preferential parking district” on streets surrounding the medical center, where residents could purchase annual permits and anyone else could park for up to two hours. Residents questioned both the burden on themselves and on hospital visitors who have more life-altering considerations than the expiration of parking permission.
“Are we going to fine people in crisis?” asked local realtor Derrick Sanderson, who noted the impact of congested parking on the neighborhood.
Councilman Michael O’Brien, formerly Chico police chief, suggested the city move forward with improving signs directing drivers to Enloe’s garage on West Sixth Avenue and paint parking “T’s” for on-street spaces while tabling the rest of the report. That became the direction to city staff by council consensus.
“With the number of people that were involved in that survey and the details that came out in the discussion last night, it didn’t surprise me it went the way it did,” Coolidge told the CN&R. “The unfortunate part when the city hires a consultant is something isn’t put together the way it needs to be. It really makes it difficult to move forward with something that’s not as complete as you’d like it to be.”
In the closed session, the council took one notable action, voting 6-1 (Morgan dissenting) to have the city provide legal counsel to former Councilman Karl Ory in current litigation involving Chico Scrap Metal.