Addressing our housing crisis means implementing cost-effective solutions that increase housing stock, integrate behavioral health services, and eliminate policies that criminalize homelessness.
State, County, and City constituents voted in favor of legalizing cannabis. It is time to implement a responsible policy to regulate cannabis based on lessons learned in other communities that have already taken this step.
I believe in expanding our definition of public safety to include both police/first responders and service providers. It is time for a collaborative approach to addressing and preventing safety concerns in our community. I will also advocate for our police force to be fully trained in Crisis Intervention Techniques (CIT) and de-escalation.
The best available research shows that the arts promote economic development, which encourages tourism and engagement with local businesses. It is time to support arts programs and projects that will fuel our local economy.
The issues of housing, homelessness, and behavioral health are intimately interconnected. The entire state of California is experiencing a housing crisis, and Chico is no exception. As housing costs rise, this issue places members of our community at increased risk of experiencing homelessness.
Solving our housing crisis will require us to use a range of tools at our disposal. I am committed to smart and sustainable growth, abiding by the City’s General Plan and Sustainability Action Plan. We must protect our Greenline and Gold Line, supporting our invaluable agricultural land and aquifer recharge zones as we consider new development.
As a City Councilor, I will support efforts to incentivize the development of affordable housing. I would like to see the city collaborate with the development community to prioritize projects that include affordable housing. We must also support and incentivize infill projects, as well as high density development of smaller units, by waiving and deferring fees and placing these projects at the top of the queue. This effort to diversify our housing stock will make Chico a more attractive place for new professionals to locate, and will support individuals and families with modest incomes. As we are better able to accommodate the housing needs of the people who live here, we are better able to decrease the risk of members of our community experiencing homelessness.
We have seen the impacts of homelessness grow year after year in Chico, and these impacts are exacerbated by our housing crisis. With existing shelters regularly operating at capacity, and a shortage of key services available to address issues that place people at risk of experiencing homelessness, we are facing a growing problem with limited resources to address it. Having worked in a domestic violence emergency shelter, I understand that there are myriad reasons someone may experience homelessness, yet the dominant narrative around this issue is that homelessness is somehow caused by a personal failing or choice. This narrative has stalled the city in moving forward using the best available research.
With the City of Chico’s recent declaration of a “shelter crisis,” we have availed ourselves to a portion of nearly five million dollars in state funding being awarded to Butte County. These funds, managed by the Butte County Continuum of Care (CoC), will support projects dedicated to addressing homelessness through housing, services, and outreach. It is a critical time for the City and County to make decisions regarding the best use of these funds. Of the many potential uses, some of the projects I would support include: The Chico Housing Action Team’s (CHAT) Tiny House Village; Winter shelter for people experiencing homelessness; 24-hour restrooms; low-barrier shelters; homeless outreach and advocacy services; a day center; a substance use detox facility; and 24-hour behavioral health services. I am excited to see what the experts in our area bring to the table, and look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from service providers about the direction the city should take in addressing issues related to homelessness.
While the decision to declare a shelter emergency was a step in the right direction, there have also been recent policy approaches to homelessness that are misguided. Ordinances such as the Sit/Lie Ordinance, which was recently passed by the City Council majority, advocate for a public safety approach to homelessness. Ordinances such as these have been discredited as ineffective by local and national research. In 2017, a group of Chico State professors released “Impacts of Chico’s Public Safety Approach to Homelessness: Initial Analyses,” a study of the effectiveness of ordinances such as Sit/Lie. What the study concluded is that a public safety approach to homelessness is not only ineffective in reducing homelessness in our area, but also extremely costly.
It is time for a new approach that is driven by current data, and what the best available data tells us is that housing and service delivery models are the least costly and most effective means of reducing homelessness and helping people move forward with their lives. As your City Councilor, I will trust the research to guide the way, and I will work collaboratively with the County to support service providers in addressing this issue from various perspectives.
In 2016, State, County, and City constituents voted in favor of Proposition 64, legalizing adult use of cannabis in California. The City of Chico overwhelmingly voiced their support of Proposition 64, with 65% “yes” votes. In addition to legalizing adult use, the passage of Proposition 64 set a comprehensive set of licensing and regulation schema that cannabis industry businesses must follow. In other words, the blueprint for how these businesses operate is already in place. As of today, more than 20 counties and 150 cities have opted to regulate commercial cannabis, including North State neighbors Shasta Lake, Sonoma and Redding.
On a fundamental level, we owe it to Chico voters to implement a smart, strategic, and sustainable policy regulating cannabis in our community. Our citizens have waited long enough, and they deserve safe local access to a consistent, regulated product, and to professional guidance for its use. Additionally, local entrepreneurs deserve the chance to take advantage of business opportunities offered by this emerging industry.
The challenges associated with cannabis already exist in Chico, and are simply exacerbated by the unregulated black market. Establishing a thoughtful policy of regulation will begin to address those concerns; legitimizing responsible operations, eroding black market activity, and putting the cost burden of oversight where it belongs - on the industry itself.
Because the state guidelines are already in place, addressing all aspects of cannabis commerce from seed to sale, municipalities adopting regulatory policies have only three major considerations to make: 1) What types of businesses they allow (e.g. dispensaries, nurseries, manufacturing companies, testing facilities, delivery businesses, micro-businesses); 2) How many of them they allow; and 3) Where they allow them. In collaboration with stakeholders from throughout the community, the City of Chico can implement a policy that takes into consideration the best options for us and best reflect the values that make this an amazing community.
Using the state requirements as a foundation, we can also choose to customize any operating standards for cannabis businesses. The use of Conditional Use Permits can allow us to better regulate the industry in accordance with the needs and preferences of our community. Additionally, we can use the City of Chico’s Economic Development Action Plan as a blueprint. Focusing on Local Preference and Local Purchasing policies outlined in this plan will ensure congruence with other business practices and standards we prioritize as a community.
When it comes to making these determinations, many voices are needed at the table. I would support the formation of a Cannabis Advisory Committee, comprised of stakeholders from within and outside the industry, to support the transition to and sustainability of cannabis commerce in our City. This group would be responsible for research, policy recommendations, and consultation about best practices surrounding this issue to be considered by the City Council.
Commercial cannabis is an emerging industry bringing change to our communities. The question is, will we make the decision to get in front of the opportunity and its issues, or will we wait until the issues catch up to us? Cannabis commerce will create new revenue through smart taxation, both living wage and professional jobs, and a new customer base for our existing trade and professional service providers. From my perspective, the smart decision is to do this work now.
My education and career in social work has exposed me to many of the public safety issues facing our community, including substance use, behavioral health, and interpersonal violence. It has also given me a well-rounded understanding of the breadth of social services available to address and prevent these concerns, and the various ways these services interact and collaborate with local law enforcement. Social service interventions are often less costly and more effective in dealing with a range of issues that concern our community.
As a city, we must expand our definition of public safety to include not only our police force and first responders, but our service providers. Service providers play an essential role in intervening in issues that may lead to crime, rehabilitating individuals who have committed crimes to reduce recidivism, and preventing issues from escalating to crime in our city. Without high quality collaborations with service providers - and by extension, cooperation and collaboration with the County - we are missing a key piece to the puzzle of public safety.
In my professional career, I have seen and been directly involved in effective partnerships between law enforcement and service providers. When I worked at Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, I saw the Domestic Violence Response Program (DVRP) thrive. This program allowed domestic violence advocates to connect directly with victims of domestic violence shortly after a violent incident occurred and involved police, so that these individuals could learn about options and services available to them. While an advocate supported the domestic violence victim, police investigated any crimes that had been committed.
Another example of effective partnership with local law enforcement is the Mobile Crisis Unit, which pairs behavioral health counselors with Chico Police Officers to respond to, assess, and de-escalate mental health crises. Rather than contributing to costs of inpatient hospitalization, behavioral health professionals have been successful in addressing concerns before they rise to a high level of severity, and supporting individuals with behavioral health concerns in getting connected to additional support. I would like to see the city increase its collaboration with the county to fully staff this unit and extend its hours to address behavioral health crises on weekends and after 5:00pm.
Expanding our definition of public safety also means equipping our police force and first responders with necessary skills to address and de-escalate crises. Although our police force has received some training in Crisis Intervention (CIT) and De-escalation, we can and should do more. Our police force should be fully trained in 40-hour, evidence-based CIT, De-Escalation, and Implicit Bias training. The skills that these models offer will enhance our response, better coordinate referrals to essential service providers, and increase safety for all members of our community - including our law enforcement officers.
The model that has been most comprehensive in instituting this training is the Memphis Model. This model is adaptable and adoptable for the needs of our community. Taking the step to train our law enforcement officers is acknowledging the national climate around behavioral health and use of police force, and being responsive to it in our own community. We have the power to prevent tragedy, increase transparency, and support all members of this community through an investment in these evidence-based strategies.
Learn more about the Memphis Model and Crisis Intervention Training at: http://www.citinternational.org/resources/Pictures/CoreElements.pdf
When I moved to Chico in 2008, I was immediately struck by its vibrant arts community. As a creative writer and musician, I was excited to participate in what was clearly a centerpoint of this amazing city. I became more integrated in to this community and began immersing myself in the local music scene as a singer-songwriter, and the music community welcomed me with open arms.
Being personally involved and invested in the arts has given me direct exposure to its impacts on well-being and quality of life. I have seen how the arts bring people together, I have seen how they enrich our community and make people feel proud to live here, and I have seen how they start broader conversations about social issues impacting our community. Chico lives and breathes Arts & Culture, which is why we are an arts destination for the North State and beyond. In the 1980’s, Chico was in the Top 10 Arts Communities in the country and boasted strong arts-related tourism. These reasons alone are enough for me to commit to investing in this identity long-term. However, the benefits of arts and culture activities reach even farther than this.
In 2015, the City of Chico commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the economic benefits of Arts & Culture activities on our community. Facilitated by the Arts Commission and conducted by Americans for the Arts, the study analyzed data from fifty-four non-profit arts organizations. Although the number of arts organizations in our community exceeds that number, the study was effective in quantifying the dollar value of arts-related activities. What it found is that arts and culture are an industry in Chico that brings in nearly eighteen million dollars in economic activity annually.
This fuel to our economy comes from multiple directions: Arts and culture organizations who spend their money locally ($8.8 million annually) and community members who participate in arts and culture activities ($8.9 million annually). It is clear that an investment in the arts and culture is an investment in the economic prosperity of the City of Chico.
It was only recently decided by the Chico City Council to allocate 1% of the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) to arts and culture activities, and this was an important step in re-investing in this industry. The $27,000 allocation will be distributed by the City in the form of small grants for non-profit arts and culture organizations. These projects will come before the City Council, including those elected on November 6 of this year. Although this allocation is a small step toward revitalizing the City’s commitment to the arts and culture, it is a step in the right direction. Additionally, with the City’s recent decision to apply TOT to Airbnb rentals in the area, this funding is predicted to increase in the coming years.
Our Arts Commission is hard at work to support arts and culture related activities, and this group of dedicated volunteers has made the best use of the limited time they are afforded to support the industry. As a City Councilor, I will support fully staffing our Arts Commission and allowing them to meet on a more regular basis in order to move this community forward.
Investing in arts and culture allows our non-profit arts organizations the resources they need to host high quality events and programs, rather than spending their time aggressively pursuing outside funding to support their work. The more projects and activities these organizations can implement, the greater the benefit to our city’s economy. I would like to see our investment continue to grow, so that we can continue to affirm Chico as an arts destination and continue to instill a sense of ownership and pride of the arts amongst the members of this community.
Alex Brown is committed to utilizing the best available research in formulating her positions and approaching the issues. Learn more about the issues and the data behind them below.