As this issue headed to press, results from the November general election remained unofficial, but the final tally indicated who will sit on the Chico City Council the next two years. Tom Van Overbeek joins re-elected Kasey Reynolds and Dale Bennett in the majority with conservative holdovers Andrew Coolidge, Sean Morgan and Deepika Tandon, while Addison Winslow replaces outgoing Alex Brown as the solitary progressive.
So, apart from a shift in the gender balance (two women instead of three), the council moves ahead virtually unchanged from the current configuration. Will the next group act differently? That depends on what, or if, the conservatives learned from the past two years.
First, the 6-1 majority is not a mandate. November marked the city’s second election by districts versus citywide candidates; conservatives only got 5.6 percent more of the vote (a 1,151 margin out of 20,403 total ballots in the four council races). Add in the Chico Unified School District race, and the edge narrows to 2.2 percent (a 991 margin out of 44,601 total votes). Either way, the council’s balance does not reflect the city’s.
Chicoans across the political spectrum have criticized the majority on its receptiveness, or lack thereof, to input. Public speakers tell the council they feel unheard on myriad matters: homelessness solutions, development, cannabis, redistricting. Should the conservatives emerge from the election emboldened, preserving the status quo as their M.O., they’ll miss an important message from their constituents.
Even ideologues realize the current council’s mistakes—many stemming from decisions that prompted the Warren v. City of Chico lawsuit. But the list goes beyond conservatives’ approach to unhoused Chicoans (see “Year in Review” feature, page 12). Just two examples: restoring a shelter crisis declaration they opted to let expire and decommissioning, then restoring, the city’s Climate Action Commission.
We’re not sold that Chico needed a new city manager when the council ousted Mark Orme. If something from his tenure endures, hopefully it’s strategic planning just before his jettison. Council members set priorities for the city, but even more importantly, they learned to consider implications—wide ripple effects—of their actions. That lesson may be the most important as the new majority pushes forward.