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Chico Mayor talks plan to clean up parks, get homeless into shelters

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This article has been updated to include the full interview with Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge.

CHICO, Calif. - Action News Now spoke with Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge about the state of the local homeless crisis and the ongoing lawsuit between the city and a group of eight homeless people.

For the time being, the city cannot enforce park rules that ban overnight camping until the judge approves a homeless shelter compromise.

Below is this transcription of our conversation with Mayor Coolidge:

Q: Mayor Coolidge, the first thing I think we should address here is, where are we at in the process of finding some sort of compromise when it comes to finding a shelter solution?

A: I think the community really wants to know that, where are we in the trial process, where are we in terms of actually getting some resolution? Because I think we all want to move forward and I'm among those folks. So if you look at it today actually they'll be submitting briefs to the magistrate in terms of the settlement conference, that will be proceeding on the 30th, so there will actually be a settlement conference at that time. Hopefully, there will be.. some sort of resolution. That's really the issue we're dealing with. The two parties coming together. I believe the other side wants the moon. We're really just dealing with providing a solution that will work within the city's budget, so we can end this and get back to enforcing the in the parks and waterways, so it's complicated.

Q: One of the things the judge brought up was at the airport shelter site, we're not seeing beds, a roof, walls, all of the things that might entail what a shelter is. Is there a plan in the works to make that site more of a shelter? Or is there some other solution you're cooking up?

A: A lot of people like to talk about the airport site and say, a lot of things were missing. But at the same token, a lot of things weren't in place yet. We actually had a request for a proposal out for that site to have organizational management. And to have them manage it in a way that would provide some of those things. But the county backed out of that site, we had other difficulties and that never came to fruition. So we have the site out there, it has the spaces and we are actually providing additional shelter above the tents, but that site, even though a lot of people have said that's not a great site, not a great location - it has about 29 people out there. They're staying. So it's grown on its own. Whether the city continues to do it because we have gotten some push back because the judge did not like it - that's something that we have to look at and see whether we tailor that back and look into something else, I think that's where the settlement conference comes into play.

Q: It feels like this all seems so far down the line. Everyone wants some sort of compromise reached, and yet we're still not even sure if we make (the airport site) work go a completely different direction at this point?

A: Certainly the city has an idea of what we can do. There are some sites being considered, some sites being offered. We want to put that together, we want to make this problem a problem of the past. We want to move forward. Whether the plaintiffs are on board with that? Some folks would say they're just trying to delay, trying to keep this process going as long as possible because it works in their favor? The city's of course pushing for the judge to make a decision quicker to get to a settlement sooner. So we've offered some pretty big things that I never thought we'd put on the table and the response we're getting is just not even...

Q: Can you tell me what some of those things are?

A: I can't tell you specifically what they are, but I can tell you that we're considering things that are more similar to Comanche Creek. Sites that have some shade and trees, that have access to water. So we've put some pretty hefty items on the table but I don't ever see us moving to an indoor shelter, because that would be really difficult. it would be difficult for the entire ninth district to actually comply with that. You're talking about San Francisco and L.A., if they had to do that, even those cities would be on the brink of bankruptcy. So to require cities to provide indoor housing when some of our residents don't even have that? To provide air conditioning when some of our residents don't even have that? I don't think that's a very realistic outcome. I don't think the judge is going to burden the city with that and every city in the ninth district with that.

Q: While we're tied up, while the city can't do anything when it comes to enforcing (some) park rules, what are the key public safety issue that you're worried about?

A: You'll start to see some movement on those issues. When it comes to extreme drug use, when it comes to the fires, obviously anything with criminal activity, that's something that we're looking at and working on to stop that kind of activity. So we are rolling out a program to do that. We know and realize that these areas are high-crime areas as well. So there's a lot of folks in the community pushing for enforcement in that area, but according to the city attorney in how we move forward, it has to be in a way that isn't targeted. We don't want to target that community or seem like we're targeting that community. So for example we can't go in there and say we're going to fine everyone for smoking and cite them. We really have to look at doing something more complete and inclusive in terms of the entire city and just enforcing laws on the books.

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