At both the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters forums and in the News and Review the conservative Republican candidates for Chico City Council duplicated Donald Trump’s strategy of frightening voters into adopting their view on issues by insisting that we aren’t safe in our homes, parks and downtown and that more policing is the solution to this problem.
Over and over the Republican endorsed city council candidates, Jeffrey Glatz, Vice-Mayor Sean Morgan and Jovanni Tricerri repeated the claim that Chico residents simply aren’t safe and that we need more police. They argue that we need these police to rid Chico of the homeless “transients” who are to blame for an apparently large, though as yet unspecified, degree of “crime” in Chico. “Transients” is the term conservatives are using in this election cycle to identify the “transient” undesirables who are homeless “by choice” from the real homeless. The real homeless, they acknowledge, may deserve a degree of compassion and support but not those other “transient” types.
This specious distinction between types of homelessness tends toward a distrust regarding the motives and circumstances of the homeless population as a whole. It’s an attitude analogous to the scorn and condemnation adopted by Trump toward immigrants, Muslims, and just about anybody who’s not white and conservative. For this year’s batch of conservative council candidates, the transient homeless are given to crime, and therefore undesirable and that’s why we need more police to get rid of them. Jeffrey Glatz, who apparently equates Bidwell Park with homelessness, is especially adamant about turning the park into a police zone. But how dangerous is it to walk in the park? As have so many of my townspeople, I’ve been walking in Bidwell Park for 20 years and I’ve never been frightened of anything except an occasional threatening dog running off leash.
While Republican city council candidate, Vice-Mayor Sean Morgan, concedes that the real homeless deserve help, he didn’t bother to attend the lecture given at Bidwell Presbyterian Church by Lloyd Pendleton from Utah where they have reduced their homeless population by 91% using the Housing First model. Had he been there, he might have learned something useful. The Church that night was packed with citizens who truly want to help, including four Chico City council candidates: incumbent Council Member Tami Ritter, incumbent Council Member Ann Schwab, incumbent Council Member Randall Stone, and former Mayor and current council candidate, Karl Ory. But neither Mayor Mark Sorenson or Vice-Mayor and council candidate, Sean Morgan, cared to attend, putting in doubt their conservative commitment to the homeless – real or otherwise.
A further claim of the conservative candidates is that “no one wants to go downtown anymore because it’s unsafe.” If so, tell me why it’s difficult to find a downtown parking place and why there was a big push to evict the Saturday Farmers’ Market and convert the site into a multi-story parking garage?
Yes, public safety is important and we do need a police dept. – but not at the cost of neglecting other essential city services that keep our community infrastructure intact and that also provide a sometimes-underestimated degree of public safety. In the older sections of town, our sidewalks are, literally, crumbling, some of which are impassable by wheelchair and a hazard to anyone who walks them, particularly the elderly. Sections of city streets are also in disrepair, pot-holed and irregular, a hazard that others like myself who travel by bicycle know well. Our city sewer lines are so old that the new roundabout downtown had to be dug up because the old, clay sewer line was leaking. How safe is it to have raw sewage leaking downtown? Sources of pollution, noise, daily traffic jams, and an aging urban forest – all these need our attention and tax dollars.
As much as we may need police, we equally need thoroughfares and sidewalks that are easy and pleasant to navigate. We need more bike paths and lanes so that more people will feel safe enough to get out of their cars and ride a bike where they need to go, thereby reducing traffic congestion, noise and pollution. We need to value all of our city workers, not just the police and fire departments.
The error in the conservative viewpoint regarding safety is that it’s too narrowly focused upon a single solution. They’d be advised to take a more inclusive view. And as for the city’s police and fire department employees who truly want to keep our townspeople safe, maybe they’d be willing to sacrifice a little of their extraordinary salaries and benefits to keep the other services going that also make our town a civil and safe place to live.