Chico council returns to virtual meetings

CHICO — Those who tried to attend the Chico City Council meeting on Dec. 21 may have had some deja vu.

With the new variant of COVID-19, known as Omicron, as well as new guidelines from the state, the city of Chico has begun opting for virtual city council meetings once again.

Deputy City Manager Jennifer Macarthy confirmed that the online meetings would continue via Zoom until further notice.

“The city made this decision due to the recent mask mandate issued by the California Department of Public Health, and in our continuing effort to protect the health of Chico residents,” Macarthy said.

Though residents won’t be able to enter the City Council Chambers, and the councilors will be participating remotely, the city has set up alternate means to join in.

“The city values the community’s participation, and we will continue to work to support an environment that fosters input and dialogue,” Macarthy said.

Those looking to participate in the meetings can find the zoom link and submit comments at chico-ca.granicusideas.com/meetings.

For varying reasons, some residents were concerned with the sudden pivot back to virtual meetings. Jessica Gianola phoned into the Zoom meeting and expressed concerns based on previous actions during the last round of virtual participation. Gianola brought up a situation involving former Chico Councilor Kami Denlay getting a seat on the council despite living in Red Bluff.

“I’m hoping that this shutdown is brief and we can get back to the council chambers,” Gianola said.

Gianola added that she hopes participation via Zoom does continue after the meetings once again are in person so that those who can’t drive to the chambers or can’t get out of their house for any reason can still take part.

“That citizen’s voice should be honored and that’s a decision that’s made by you (the City Council) as a whole and can be changed by you as a whole,” Gianola said. “So I’m hoping we can make changes so that everyone who wants to can participate.”

Katie Posey said she was not in favor of the mask mandate put in place by the state of California and asked the council to reconsider moving to a virtual format for its next meeting.

Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge said the decision came down to keeping staff safe during a time of uncertainty in relation to the virus.

“In terms of council meetings, we decided to go virtual to protect staff, obviously due to the recent infection rate and risk,” Coolidge said. “It’s something we figured would be better to handle these things, especially with the governor’s order through Jan. 15 to wear masks indoors.”

Coolidge said the online meetings also expand the potential for public input.

“Virtual meetings are much more able to deal with all of the public through online aspects, and not having to worry about people’s opinions on what our masking policy is in the chambers,” Coolidge said.

As far as returning to the chambers, Coolidge promoted vaccinations.

“I was vaccinated early and encouraged other people to get vaccinated,” said Coolidge, who was vaccinated publicly at Enloe Medical Center. “I don’t think vaccinations should be a political issue.”

The Chico City Council generally meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 421 Main St. Meetings are free and open to the public.

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