Meeting in the middle

Press conference, mayor’s presentation, press release overshadow brief council session

Chico City Council candidates Jesica Giannola, Morgan Kennedy and Addison Winslow stand with Panama Springs apartments resident Leon Graczyk Tuesday (Sept. 20) in support of a renters union formed to fight evictions at the complex. (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

One hour is all it took for the Chico City Council to take care of business during the last session of the summer (Sept. 20). Back on their bimonthly rotation after a monthly summertime schedule, the members approved all agenda items with little or no discussion.

During the meeting, the most emotionally charged moment came before the regular business when Mayor Andrew Coolidge presented retiring Police Chief Matt Madden with a certificate of appreciation for his 26 years of police service. With a wall of Chico police officers lining the back of the council chambers in support, the outgoing chief shared gratitude for his time on the force and that he was looking forward to making up for lost time with family.

Mayor Andrew Coolidge presents retiring Police Chief Matt Madden with a certificate of appreciation from the city during a ceremony during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

But pre- and post-meeting developments provided the most drama.

At a press conference held in front of the Municipal Building as the council met in closed session, a trio of progressive City Council candidates—Addison Winslow, Morgan Kennedy and Jesica Giannola— showed up in support of residents of Panama Springs Apartments on the northern end of the Esplanade. Winslow, standing next to a current resident of the complex, Leon Graczyk, shared that an out-of-town entity—Beck Asset Management LLC—recently purchased the building and is evicting its tenants, all of whom, according to Winslow, receive services from local assistance groups.

A letter to the City Council signed by the tenants states that the newly formed Panama Spring United renters union is seeking its assistance in two ways: the passing of an ordinance granting right of first refusal on apartment projects to nonprofit housing providers; and funding to preserve the complex as affordable housing, allowing the tenants to stay.

Winslow presented the issue to the council during the public comment period, and at the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Alex Brown made a motion to agendize a staff presentation on the matter, which died after receiving no second.

In a statement released after the meeting, Brown was puzzled why her colleagues wouldn’t vote to discuss the potential loss of affordable housing in Chico. She also pointed to those particular residents’ fragile situation: “Panama Springs Apartments is home to several tenants who were formerly homeless, many of whom access services from Behavioral Health, are veterans, and are very low income residents of Chico. … What’s happening is a direct threat to affordable housing in Chico with the impending potential to put several of our residents out or back out on the street.”

On to regular business

The first order of business was a routine public hearing for the annual report on the city’s spending of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) monies was approved for submission to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 7-0 vote.

Chico Housing Specialist Mary Jo Alonzo highlighted the 2021-22 fiscal year spending for the council. The bulk of the roughly $3.5 million CDBG and HOME funds—$2.7 million—was spent on site preparation and construction costs for 214 affordable housing units at three locations (including the 101-unit Creekside Place).

Additional COVID-specific CDBG funding—more than $500,000—was distributed to various nonprofits including Peg Taylor Center, Meals on Wheels, Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, True North Housing Alliance, Point of Contact and the Jesus Center (for operational expenses for the Pallet shelter).

As for the night’s regular agenda, four items were unanimously approved in 7-0 votes:

● A budget policy amendment allowing Chico Police Department to use officer-training reimbursements from the state for additional training.

● Two fire department-related recommendations from Public Works Director Erik Gustafson: One to expedite the city’s ability to purchase certain large-scale fire equipment by approving sole-source procurement (for a period of 10 years) from Hi-Tech Emergency Vehicle Service, the only facility in Northern California authorized to build and repair the machines in the Chico Fire Department’s fleet; and the other to approve the allocation of budget surplus funds to make up for a $831,449 shortfall—due to rising costs as the result of inflation—for previously approved 2022-23 fiscal year purchases of one ladder truck and two type-one fire trucks.

● A request from Brown to have Butte County Local Food Network make a 15-minute presentation at a future meeting.

The only item not unanimously passed was City Manager Mark Sorensen’s recommendation that the city approve a memorandum of understanding between the city and Chico Police Management Employees regarding terms spelled out during recently concluded contract negotiations. Amendments to the contract—which will run through 2025—include pay increases, insurance costs and other expenses that are estimated to add an additional $438,000 over the remaining three years of the agreement. The resolution passed on a 6-1 vote, with Brown dissenting.

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