CHICO — Andrew Jared is out as city attorney of Chico.
The Chico City Council voted 5-2 (with Councilors Scott Huber and Alex Brown against) in closed session late Feb. 2 to remove Jared and hire a new attorney.
The agenda for the next council meeting Tuesday contains an item for the council to approve a contract retaining legal services with Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin for City Attorney services — to appoint Vincent Ewing, who was city attorney before Jared, to the role effective March 1, according to the council minutes.
The news came as debate over the legality of enforcements of city code, which move camps from select public spaces, continues.
City notices to campers to leave the Boucher Street parcel expired 9:30 a.m. Friday, but as of the morning, it seemed unlikely the city will begin evicting these camps until better weather arrives. Of other enforcements, the city noted Friday in a press release that Chico Police and Fire Departments regularly field requests from the community regarding each department’s role in mitigating illegal fires within the city’s parks, greenways and waterways and ”must prioritize which calls receive first response.”
Multiple activists and elected officials have spoken out against the city’s enforcement operations that broke up camps, and on Thursday questioned the legality of sweeping camps from city property while no emergency shelter spaces are open to immediate sheltering are available.
City Manager Mark Orme was not able to comment on this action. Mayor Andrew Coolidge said as it’s a personnel matter taken in closed session, he cannot comment.
Huber said “I have been pleased with Mr. Jared’s performance. He has been very responsive to phone calls and questions I’ve had over the last two years and I’ll be sorry to see him go.”
“I’m totally disappointed, they drove away somebody who had a really high regard for the law and I think it interpreted it well, even though he had to do it for whatever particular City Council was there,” Planning Commissioner John Howlett said.
Multiple activists and elected officials have spoken out against the enforcements, and gathered Friday morning along Humboldt Avenue to look out for any sign of a coming sweep by city staff. Butte County Sheriff’s Office vehicles circled the area sporadically.
”I’m here this morning to demonstrate my objection to what is certainly an inhumane and immoral action and what is quite possibly an illegal one,” Huber said as he stood outside Has Beans on Friday.
While Huber acknowledged his elected duty to support enforcements of jurisdiction ordinances, he added he has a ”higher obligation to protect human lives and rights.”
”Stripping people of their possessions and sending them onto the streets in mid-winter with no alternative campground or shelter is a serious evil,” Huber said. ”Given the direction of the majority vote of the Chico City Council it is clear that this evil is likely to endure.”
Huber cited Article Five of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and added “Dispersing people into the outdoors without assuring that they have adequate protection against the elements and a safe place to sleep is cruel and inhumane.”
Planning Commissioners Rich Ober and Howlett both added they think removing people from a residential-zoned city lot does not seem to legally fall under under the previous changes to the city ordinance to enforce rules like no camping in parks and greenways.
“I think the city needs to explain why the ordinance that prohibits camping in parks and greenways applies to here, because as a residential zoned piece of property it is clearly not a park, not a greenway, not in the public right of way.” Ober said. ”It seems to meet all the criteria that police and the city have said is allowable, so how they can then justify evictions from here?”
Because it is zoned for residential properties, the lot cannot fit under the current city ordinance for parks and greeenways, Howlett said. He added he is worried sweeping enforcement notices for community parks and greenways, issued to people on a lot which is neither, will set a long term precedent for how people will be treated rather than working on more permanent, specific solutions.
Ober also cited the Supreme Court Ninth Circuit ruling on Martin v. Boise, Idaho about not moving people without other sheltering alternatives, and added he thinks the city should have been more specific about where people could move to.
“I think it’s incumbent on the city with the Chico Police Department and Target Team being the primary city interface with these folks,” he said. “They’ve consistently … (said) these campers are allowed to sleep and rest in the public right of way as long as they’re not blocking a sidewalk or city center.
”The problem with that of course is they’re not allowed to have belongings, not allowed to have some sort of shelter. That makes it absolutely unlivable and actually dangerous. So then you move to this kind of setup where it is, relatively speaking, a horrible place for people to have to live, but compared to that alternative this seems more humane and more livable.”
The cost of ongoing enforcement operations and cleanups, which so far have cost the city at least $26,000 to use public works crews and equipment, also concerned Ober. While costs to the Chico Police Department for each enforcement operation have not yet been released, previous analysis by the E-R in October found that using one member of the Target Team (considered special-class veterans) for one hour can cost at least $68.54.
At each camp enforcement thus far, at least one member of the Chico police Target Team and one Park Ranger have always been present, as well as a Sergeant, Lieutenant and other officers. The new Target Team lead Sgt. Paul Ratto, brought on suddenly after an unexplained movement of Sgt. Cesar Sandoval to another role in the department, is more likely to be paid at least $92 an hour, based on total estimates for a Sergeant team lead which Human Resources Director Jamie Cannon quoted in October. This cost is not including all equipment used at the site, and not accounting for how many hours each officer was present at an operation.
After about four enforcement operations with at least several more likely, ”You compound that time and resource cost by however many times this is going to happen … each time, that multiples that number,” Ober said. ”It’s a hugely costly solution. It’s a lose-lose.”