In a Chico City Council meeting full of legal arguments and impassioned speeches, one of the most significant moments Tuesday night (Nov. 2) was so subtle as to be nearly undetectable.
It happened about 90 minutes in, during the meat of the meeting: a series of appeals for commercial cannabis dispensaries whose applications had been denied by city staff. Mayor Andrew Coolidge called for a break in the hearings, and as council members and attendees moved out of their seats, Coolidge got served with a recall notice.
The proponents—”a newly created, grassroots organization” called Chico Voters—announced in a press release a half-hour later, as the meeting continued, their intent to circulate a petition to oust Coolidge from his council seat representing District 5. He anticipated the action, as he had his own printed press release ready.
After receiving the notice, he spoke briefly with Deepika Tandon, the District 7 councilwoman who, like Coolidge and Sean Morgan in District 1, was elected last November. Morgan was absent from the meeting.
At a press conference this morning (Nov. 3) at City Plaza, Chico Voters representative Morgan Kennedy read from the press release: “[Coolidge’s] failure to embrace common sense guidance, adhere to norms of transparent governance, and listen to the will of the people has resulted in a community that is worse off than when he swore [his] oath.” Grievances listed include Coolidge’s support of the airport resting site for unhoused Chicoans—rebuked by the federal judge presiding over the Warren v. City of Chico lawsuit—and the downtown ice rink being installed in City Plaza, which is currently fenced off for the third time this year.
Coolidge said by phone earlier this morning that he’d gotten nearly 100 calls since the meeting, all positive. He evoked a recall effort against then-Mayor Randall Stone and Councilman Karl Ory abandoned in November 2019, as the city prepared to move from at-large to district elections, and another this year to oust four of the five Chico Unified School District board members. Coolidge also invoked a term used by Gov. Gavin Newsom during the unsuccessful 2021 gubernatorial recall: weaponized politics.
“I knew it was coming,” Coolidge said, “and I was an Eagle Scout, so I was prepared with a press release—such is the Boy Scout motto.
“Obviously, within any city, within any district in the city, you can find 20 people to sign a recall [initiation] petition. So it’s not a very high branch to reach,” he said. “And certainly we’ve seen this tactic taken place at various times in recent history in Chico.”
Coolidge, among a 6-1 conservative majority, previously served 2014-18 as a citywide-elected councilman.
The City Clerk’s Office reports the voter registration total for District 5 at 6,076. With 25 percent required for a recall, the Chico Voters group would need to collect signatures from 1,519 of them.
“To me, this is an extremist group on the fringe who is simply trying to change the results of a fair election that had one of the highest turnouts ever in the history of Chico,” Coolidge said. “To say 11 months after that result that we need to change that result flies not only in the face of the will of the voters but the sense of ethical politics …
“I really think that this group’s goal is an extreme political takeover of the council, and they’re not going to be happy regardless of what we’re doing or what I’m doing.”
The meeting itself centered on cannabis appeals, with the council upholding one and denying three, then deciding to revisit whether the city would allow a range of businesses broader than dispensaries.
The appeals dealt exclusively with zoning—at that, one particular issue, related to “sensitive use” proximity. City staff rejected applications for dispensaries located within set distances of youth centers and daycare facilities, per city code and state law. However, as raised in three appeals, interpretations of definitions varied.
Velvet Chico LLC found its Oleander Avenue site disqualified over a family home daycare center on the edge of the legal buffer whose permit application overlapped with the dispensary’s. Ashe Chico LLC (Nord Avenue) and Authentic Chico LLC (Mangrove Avenue) got rejected over a dance studio and music school, respectively, each with lessons for adults as well as youth. The fourth appellate, Grupo Flor (Carmichael Drive), got red-flagged over Cal Skate, but Butte County Office of Education also objected because of its neighboring instructional facilities.
Council members weighed Ashe Chico’s position, presented by an Orange County-based attorney, before unanimously denying its appeal. They deadlocked 3-3 on Authentic Chico, resulting in a denial, and after the break unanimously denied Grupo Flor. But on a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Michael O’Brien dissenting, the council allowed Velvet Chico LLC to move forward with 25 other applicants for three licenses.
“You never know how these things are going to turn out,” said Matt Morea, co-founder of Velvet Cannabis, a dispensary in Martinez hoping to expand to Chico. “We’re certainly grateful for the opportunity, and now we need to go through the hard work of demonstrating we’re the right partner.”
Said Coolidge: “When people were disapproved, they missed out on key, unique informational items about the city.”
The mayor, who votes last, proved the swing vote for Authentic Chico—joining O’Brien, the former police chief who rejected each appeal, and Dale Bennett. Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds, Tandon and Alex Brown supported the dispensary, which has been leasing a shuttered bank building and opened it rent-free for a provider of COVID tests.
“I do believe that the City Council didn’t look at the law and didn’t look at the facts,” applicant Susan Hearne, a retired peace officer and 40-year Chico resident, said outside chambers after her hearing. “I do understand that the City Council has a negative attitude about cannabis businesses; however, this particular business [her partner, Shryne Group Inc.] has 20 businesses across the state of California and they know what they’re doing.
“The sooner that the city of Chico brings in viable cannabis businesses, we should have funding that’s going to help with homelessness, because we’re losing millions and millions of dollars each year we don’t have a viable facility like this.”
The council took a tentative step farther in that regard after Coolidge asked about agendizing a discussion about cannabis manufacturing and production businesses. Brown—who as vice mayor under the previous, progressive majority served on a committee that mapped out the city’s commercial cannabis ordinance—inquired about other aspects of the industry such as delivery and testing. Tandon made a motion that Brown seconded to consider all industry sectors.
With O’Brien saying he’s “willing to discuss,” the vote was unanimous in favor.