CHICO >> Calling for a stop to problems plaguing downtown, community leaders and city officials rallied Monday on the steps of Council Chambers to outline a vision for making the streets safer and cleaner this holiday season.
They confirmed the return of dedicated downtown police officers, as well as announced the launch of the downtown holiday season with several upcoming events. Representatives of the Chico Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Chico Business Association, Clean & Safe Chico and the city urged citizens to be part of the solution by getting involved and being a positive presence.
Katie Simons, president of the chamber, said she hoped it kicks off a series of community conversations about issues downtown.
“I need hope, the community needs hope and we need to work together,” she said.
City Manager Mark Orme said the City Council”s priority goal of public safety has been a focus of his, too. One of his actions has been to ask city departments to continue strategically working together to target illegal encampments.
“However, even with that effort, there continues to be a small population that desires to poke and prod at the daily lives of those who conduct their business in downtown. This small group has also directly impacted those less fortunate in our community as well — the homeless — in a way that is negative,” he said. “However, the uncaring, belligerent small groups of transients that have no respect for our community”s property, no respect for our city”s laws, and who continue to be an affront to common courtesy, decency and respect, need to be confronted while we continue to reach out with compassion to those that are truly in need of help and are willing to accept it.”
When and where the police patrols will be is not being disclosed for operational reasons. Its funding also has not been disclosed.
At the conclusion of the announcement Monday, Richard Hartman, vice president of the Chico Police Officers Association, questioned the feasibility of the downtown patrols. With patrol resources already limited, mandatory overtime shifts and difficulty attracting new officers to fill funded positions, he wanted more details from city leaders.
“We want to work it,” he said. “It as important to me as everyone here but where are these people going to come from?”
Doug Guillon, a backer behind last year”s R-Town effort that aimed to address antisocial behavior downtown, also expressed his doubts about potential effectiveness. While controversial to some, the armed security guards on private property last year worked and would be a more cost-effective and long-term solution than Police Department overtime, he said.
“We proved it to be successful last year in short order, ” he said. “We had the real offenders off the streets.”
And yet, the problem is as bad again as it was at this time last year, he said.
“I just shake my head every time I walk down there,” he said. “And what happened to sit-lie? We are not doing anybody any favors by turning a blind eye.”
Guillon is, however, happy to see one element R-Town implemented, the Cleaning Brigade, still in effect, and supported by businesses and property owners — just as the security issue should be, he said.
“I think the Chamber and DCBA would have time better spent on a direct drive program,” he said. “As a property owner, I”m happy to put up the money.”
With a strained police force, Jovanni Tricerri with Clean & Safe Chico said citizens have the opportunity to be proactive. He urged them to join the Downtown Ambassadors, volunteer at the Jesus Center or Torres Shelter and get involved in other ways.
The holiday season launches with the What”s Happening on Third Street on Thursday, the Harvest Sidewalk Sale this weekend and Treat Street on Oct. 31. They will be followed by the continuation of Hometown Holiday Hospitality, and the Christmas tree lighting Dec. 5.
After two years of pushing clean and safe issues in her personal life, Simmons told the crowd Tuesday that the fight is now also personal. She described how on Aug. 1, her young daughter was the victim of a carjacking, and although she was OK, it evidenced the significance of the problem.
“We are all on a mission of some sort,” Simmons said. “I”m also a mom on a mission. And you know us moms, we won”t stop until the work is done.”
Contact reporter Ashley Gebb at 896-7768.