Redding City Council Drama: Medical Marijuana, Backyard Chickens and Beleaguered Turtle Bay

popcorn

Why pay for entertainment when we can attend Redding City Council sessions for free?

Drama, enlightenment, humor, sarcasm, open hostility, thinly veiled put-downs, blunders, misunderstandings were all there Tuesday.

But the city council members weren’t the only performers.

Really, popcorn was the only thing missing at the exceptionally packed chambers. 

Let’s hit the high points, starting with a public comment by Sean Merritt, a young man who identified himself as a retired Army specialist suffering from PTSD. He recognized the day’s date – April 20 – as having special significance for medical marijuana users. (Read more about “420” here.)

He said all men are created equal, but not all bodies are created equal, and how some people suffer from many ailments, some of which can be relieved by a plant: marijuana. In addition to extolling the virtues of medical marijuana, and asking everyone to remember, “There but for the grace of God go I,”  he shared some unique hemp history. 

“Abe Lincoln liked nothing more than smoking a pipe of sweet hemp,” Merritt said. 

Then came city recognition of the 2010 Redding Regional Science Bowl winners from Shasta High School, students who’ll represent the North State in Washington, D.C. Well-deserved applause all around.

Speaking of well-deserved, Redding hero Jefferson Sum was presented with a citizen’s award by Redding Police Chief Pete Hanson for Sum’s heroic February rescue of a woman who’d driven her car onto the railroad tracks in search of her dog. When the car became stuck in the path of an oncoming train, Sum removed the woman from her car just moments before the locomotive destroyed the vehicle.

Sum’s award was met with loud applause that led to a standing ovation, started by councilman Rick Bosetti, which resulted in a seventh-inning-stretch-like wave as the rest of the chamber eventually clambered to its feet.

Next came the consent calendar, approved by a 5-0 vote, but not without a previous stipulation by Councilor Mary Stegall who registered her “no” vote for number 4.11(a) on the calendar regarding a consulting and professional services contract for the Oasis Road Interchange project, something Stegall has consistently voted against.

The council then decided upon the subject of backyard chickens, a topic you read about here last month. Basically, city staff recommended that the city modify previous half-acre setbacks, and allow smaller Redding lots to contain six or fewer hens.

But the agenda didn’t refer to the animals as chickens, but rather, they were included in the broader category of “fowl and gnawing animals” a term that gave councilwoman Stegall pause, and gave the audience perhaps one of the few laughs of the night, when she asked for a definition of a “gnawing” animal, followed by an inquiry about whether they’d be caged.

Stegall pushed the thought down a slippery slope that landed upon an earlier topic.

“Will they get out?” she asked with a laugh. “Are they going to eat the marijuana plants?”

That moment of levity was pleasant, though fleeting. Even so, it helped mitigate the moments of tension that later erupted between Stegall and Councilman/Mayor Patrick Jones during the Turtle Bay Exploration Park portion of the evening.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, the chickens. Two backyard-chicken enthusiasts had nothing but praise for chickens. (Disclosure: Shelly Shively, my sister, was one of the speakers.)

Oh my gosh, chickens are great, they said. They’re wonderful pets, they provide eggs, they’re far less noisy than barking dogs and you won’t catch a chicken climbing a fence and using neighbors’ flower beds as a litter box. Plus, chickens eat ticks and other unwanted bugs, not to mention they provide excellent fertilizer.

All those happy chicken thoughts were slammed on the chopping block by a speaker named Sandra, a woman who delivered sharp, pointed comments about the evils of allowing chickens in the city at all.

“I’ve raised chickens,” she said. “I know what they’re all about.”

That was the wind-up. She said chicken coops were as ugly an eyesore as “derelict junk cars on cinder blocks.” She said chickens attracted all kinds of varmints, like rats, mice and possums.

She scoffed at the idea of low-income families taking care of chickens, because they couldn’t afford chicken feed (chicken feed costs more than you’d think), just like they neglect their cats, which become feral.

She spoke of chickens as gateway creatures.

“It starts with chickens,” she said. 

After that … pigs, pigeons, goats, ducks, geese, guinea pigs, rabbits …

Her sentence trailed off, leaving imaginations to fill in the unspeakable.

(Hermit crabs, hamsters, ant farms … )

This seemingly simple backyard-chicken ordinance, one that would ease lot-size requirements for those who desired backyard hens, one that even allowed for chickens as close as 5 feet from a neighbor’s fence – with the neighbor’s written permission – was thoroughly researched and recommended by city staff. Last month it was subsequently approved by a 4 -1 vote from the Planning Commission.

Tuesday, Stegall suggested the council accept the city staff and Planning Commission recommendation and approve the ordinance. But first, Councilwoman Missy McArthur spoke glowingly about backyard chickens. She shared examples of family and neighbors who’d been good chicken-owner role models, and she cited the growing national trend of raising chickens, something covered quite a bit in the popular movie, “Food, Inc.” 

McArthur added that regarding some people’s fears of next-door chicken filth, odor and flies, she’d discovered an existing city ordinance that gives citizens legal recourse against such foulness. Regarding the proposed ordinance, she wished it were more lenient, and she expressed discomfort with the idea of neighbor being pitted against neighbor if written permission was needed for chickens on especially small lots.

Mayor Jones seemed fine with the backyard hen ordinance, and even waxed nostalgic about bygone days when he raised as many as 300 pigeons.  

The surprise came when the issue was put to a vote. It passed – barely – with a 3 to 2 vote. Councilman Dick Dickerson was one of the two “no” votes, and the audience never learned why, because he’d not participated in the previous chicken discussions.

The real shocker was McArthur’s “no” vote, in which she appeared to contradict her previous positive comments about backyard chickens. She later explained her vote as her desire for a “less restrictive” ordinance.

Huh?

If all the council members had used McArthur’s voting logic, the proposed ordinance would have failed, and residents would be stuck with the old ordinance, a far more restrictive half-acre lot requirement – than the one heard before the city council Tuesday. 

OK, but the chicken ordinance was approved.

Next item up, Bert Meyer was reappointed to the Planning Commission for another term, which would end in 2014. As an aside, Meyer was the Planning Commission’s one “no” vote on the chicken ordinance issue.

Finally, the agenda delivered the item that had obviously packed the chambers: a conceptual approval of a change of location for Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s proposed hotel.

Greg Clark, assistant to the city manager, explained that Turtle Bay had identified a revised location for its proposed hotel, and museum leaders were seeking the council’s early-on feedback and conceptual approval of that site revision, so they knew whether to proceed to the next step.   

Right out of the gate, Bosetti made a plea for that previous 5 acres of proposed Turtle Bay hotel property, so perhaps the city could make money some way off that parcel.

Arch Pugh, Turtle Bay’s attorney and secretary of the museum’s board of trustees, told the council that the whole point of the proposed hotel project was because Turtle Bay took seriously the city’s directive to be self-supporting.

“You’ve said, ‘Go out and find a way to fund yourselves,’ ” Pugh said. “We’re trying to do that.”

He said the hotel would be built with a combination of private money and some Turtle Bay foundation money. But he said Turtle Bay couldn’t proceed to the next step without a conceptual nod from the city council early on in the process. Without permission from the city regarding the location change, Turtle Bay couldn’t line up funders because the plan was paralyzed until the desired site was nailed down.

Pugh said Turtle Bay’s hope was the hotel – and eventual new restaurant – would become profitable draws to Redding. He said that it could bring a whole new hotel reservation customer with the Starwood system, thus attracting potentially new visitors – Starwood members – to Redding.

Jones seemed unclear of the reservation concept when he suggested that Redding just get that particular reservation system in place, to which Pugh explained that the reservation system was attached to a specific hotel chain, specifically, Starwood hotels. No hotel chain, no matching reservation system.

Then came Jones’ fears that a Turtle Bay “motel” would pull business from other motels, but most of all, he balked at the idea of letting Turtle Bay build a “motel” on city-owned land that it leases rent-free. Jones took that thought one step further and suggested the museum should pay the city full market value for the land, adding Turtle Bay his goal was for the museum to stand on its own and pay its way.

Pugh said that if the museum did as Jones suggested, the result would be zero profitability.

Jones countered that it was unfair to not charge Turtle Bay for the proposed “motel” property, when others might want the same deal.

“If we do for one we should do for others,” Jones said. 

That’s just about when Stegall broke in and asked permission to make a statement, to which Jones replied, “In time,” but the peeved expression on Stegall’s face seemed inspiration enough for Jones to change his mind and allow Stegall to speak after all.

“Please quit using the term ‘we’ because you don’t speak for me,” Stegall said. Her comment was quickly followed by Dickerson, who said Jones didn’t speak for him, either.

Stegall refuted Jones’ points, starting by saying that a Turtle Bay hotel would not just benefit the museum, but it could bring TOT (transient occupancy tax) money to Redding, and increase sales tax revenues, and enhance the community as a destination. She defended Turtle Bay by saying that the museum complex bettered the community, and that the hotel was Turtle Bay leaders’ attempt to make a profit and survive.  She addressed the council’s responsibility to Turtle Bay, too.

“We, as a council, have said we want to find ways to help support them,” she said. “One way we can help is by supplying land.”

She said that if the council were to follow Jones’ suggestion, and require Turtle Bay buy the proposed land from the city at fair market value, then the deal may as well be called off.

Dickerson, who’d been fairly quiet throughout the evening, said that Turtle Bay was important to the city and community. He said that if the council believed otherwise, it should find ways to sabotage the organization. Dickerson said that’s exactly what it appeared the mayor was trying to do. 

“The decision has evolved to this,” Dickerson said. “Do we want Turtle Bay to succeed or not?” 

At that, James Theimer of Trilogy Architecture was asked to show the proposed hotel site.

“That was an interesting introduction,” Theimer said, getting the first laugh since Stegall’s chicken joke.

Theimer said he wasn’t there to show a hotel plan – no small feat for an architect – but to show the proposed revised location, roughly the parking lot area of Turtle Bay’s current Visitor Center and Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp. He showed how the four-story hotel would not loom over the tree line, giving low structural impact to the site. He spoke of how the site would enhance pedestrian access to the Sundial Bridge, and allow an opportunity for a promenade-type area that could link to surrounding trails.

“This isn’t just for hotel guests,” Theimer said, “but the public, too.”

Theimer’s presentation was followed by a public comment by Mary Machado, Shasta Voices executive director, who said it was premature to discuss the topic of a hotel on the property because the public hadn’t yet weighed in on it, and she didn’t want Turtle Bay to bypass the usual development channels.

Jenny Abbe-Moyer was the next public speaker, and an unabashed Turtle Bay supporter. She said that a first-class Turtle Bay hotel would be an improvement to the area, and bring more people downtown. She disagreed with the mayor.

“I think (the hotel) will raise all boats, and not be a detriment to other hotels,” Abbe-Moyer said. She then shifted to a different topic: Jones’ open disdain for the Sundial Bridge.

“I am dismayed that he’s chosen his refusal to cross the bridge,” Abbe-Moyer said. “It’s appalling and sends the wrong message. It’s embarrassing.”

A gentleman speaker (sorry, whose name I didn’t catch), said he understood Turtle Bay’s need for money, but he was also uncomfortable with the hotel being built on public property, which he segued into a pitch for a “save the Convention Center” group.

Council discussion ensued. Back and forth.

City Manager Kurt Starman addressed a number of the concerns and questions that had surfaced throughout the evening, starting with a reminder that this was merely a conceptual, preliminary discussion.

Starman said a project of this magnitude takes time, money and plans, and it was understandable that Turtle Bay needed some sense about the project’s likelihood. He said Turtle Bay would adhere to the same development process as any other project. Bosetti reiterated this idea about the city getting a hold of the 5-acre parcel from Turtle Bay’s previous plan. Dickerson said Turtle Bay was governed by a board of directors, and they needed a chance to discuss the 5-acre plot in question. Jones said it’s no secret he believes the museum should support itself and wean itself from public money.

“I actually like the idea,” Jones said of Turtle Bay’s proposed hotel project. “But it needs to stand on its own. If it’s a good enough project it can pay the prevailing cost.”

Then came the vote: 4-1 in favor, with Jones casting the lone no vote.

In the end, the Redding City Council agreed with Turtle Bay’s conceptual proposal, and amended the museum’s lease with the city. This allows the museum to proceed with its plan of a for-profit hotel development.  

That was that.

With a rumbling exit, the majority of the audience left the chambers, so they missed Assistant City Manager Barry Tippin’s proposal, approved unanimously by the council: “Radical 10 in 2K10 Committee” regarding Partner Up! Surplus Program for surplus residential in-fill properties as a one-year pilot program.” And the audience missed Mary Stegall’s travel expense report. Finally, the council members went into a closed session for a conference with a labor negotiator.

Meeting adjourned.

Just another Redding City Council meeting. 

Pass the popcorn.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Northern California in the tiny town of Igo.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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