Chico Mayor Sean Morgan called it mob rule and judicial overreach. Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer called it coercion. Nevertheless, by a narrow majority the Chico council again changed course on its scrap yard saga Tuesday night.
What should have been a contentious, but fairly typical rezoning battle has dragged on for decades. Some insist Chico Scrap Metal, with its open-air yard, heavy equipment, noise and dust doesn’t belong in the changing neighborhood.
Others claim that property rights of the long-standing business should overshadow other concerns.
For partisans on either side, the issue has taken on added importance.
Councilman Mark Sorensen, who has helped delay efforts to move the business, made a statement that just as easily could have come from an opponent.
“It’s just an old political vendetta, and the City of Chico is just a pawn in the game,” Sorensen said.
In action last night, the council revoked an earlier agreement conservatives pushed allowing the scrap yard to stay put, and restored an even older document compelling it to move. The vote itself was set in motion by a ruling in a lawsuit over an effort to allow voters to decide and the council majority’s attempts to block that effort.
Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer warned of unnamed forces at work that would be buoyed by victory.
“Every single one of you should be concerned about your voter’s rights,” Fillmer said. “And those that own businesses, you have an individual and you have individuals in this audience that will do everything they can to take your business away from you.”
The argument wasn’t universally persuasive. Councilwoman Ann Schwab had a differing opinion.
“My vote is going to reflect the 9,000 registered voters in Chico that asked us to put this on the ballot,” Schwab said.
Danielle Mootz, representing Chico Scrap Metal all but promised to sue the city. The City of Chico has already sued Karl Ory, a sitting councilman, over his efforts to bring the issue before voters.
The council also received a report on Community Choice Aggregation, an electricity reform proposal developed after investor-owned utilities used their lobbying muscle to make it much more difficult for localities to form or join municipally-owned utilities. The report was delivered by Gary Saleba of EES Consulting, a company promoting similar proposals elsewhere in California. If eventually approved, electricity in Chico would still be delivered by Pacific Gas & Electric Company, but local customers would gain some input over which power plants to buy power from.
In other council action, the board unanimously gave its blessing to a plan to use proceeds from an increase in state tobacco taxes to assign city police officers to patrol the local high schools.