Chico City Council Candidates Face Off At Chico State

Sep 18, 2018

Credit Marc Albert

Watch Monday's full Chico City Council debate below. 

Eight of the nine candidates vying for a seat on the Chico City Council faced off Monday night at a League of Women Voters event on the Chico State campus.

In terms of municipal politics, all of the candidates love Bidwell Park, they want better public safety, more decorum and less heated rhetoric, passenger service at the airport, Chapmantown annexation to go smoothly and for Chico to be envied elsewhere. Most boast long local roots. 

Nevertheless, there are differences.

Three of seven council seats are up for grabs this November. The conservatives’ 4 to 3 majority may be as well. Both local political factions fielding competing slates, while three independent candidates also compete.

The city’s ‘sit-lie’ ordinance, prohibiting sitting or lying down on sidewalks remains a potent division. Some argue it’s needed to wrest commercial areas from aggressive transients, others that it criminalizes poverty. Businessman Jon Scott, argued it doesn’t single people out.

“The sit and lie ordinance doesn’t pick a particular class of people,” Scott said. “It is not about how well you’re doing or not doing. It’s about behavior.”

Not everyone agreed. Citing a study conducted by researchers affiliated with Chico State, Rich Ober said the money spent enforcing it could have been better used elsewhere, and that rousting the homeless from downtown shifted problems elsewhere.

“What we got for that $800,000 is moving people into the park, further north into our neighborhoods, we simply moved people along,” Ober said.

Candidates Alex Brown and Scott Huber largely agreed with Ober.

Andrew Coolidge, the only sitting conservative seeking re-election, reminded the audience that he brought the item to the council. Kasey Reynolds called it a valuable tool for police, adding that during three years on the books no one had been jailed for violating it. Matt Gallaway said he favored the ordinance because it was requested by police.

A chamber of commerce proposal to increase the local sales tax was barely addressed, though Gallaway and Coolidge said taxes were too high and scaring away business. Reynolds hedged, saying she was concerned the money would be used on something else. Scott said the discussion should be about reforming public employee pensions. Meanwhile, Brown and Ober said officials should also study taxing marijuana sales, while Huber noted the council majority refused to discuss the issue.

Planning Commissioner Ken Rensink said operating a city well doesn’t come cheaply.

“Yes, we are a high tax state,” Rensink said. “But we all have to decide are we willing to spend the amount of money to provide the services that we all say we want? And, I think we ought to be open to all possibilities, including raising some taxes selectively, if that’s what it takes.”

Asked how they’d increase funding for Bidwell Park, most said they’d look to volunteer groups rather than the general public to come up with more cash.

In terms of restoring passenger service to the airport, Coolidge called for a study, Rensink said the Airport Commission should make recommendations, Scott said the city should make airline operations more profitable without elaborating, while Gallaway said the city shouldn’t provide a subsidy. Reynolds said that business-friendly policies will eventually generate demand, while Brown and Ober mentioned a so-called travel bank. Huber said he supported efforts already underway and mentioned that an airline proposed financing a new terminal.

*Film used courtesy of the Leauge of Women Voters of Butte County.