CHICO — After nine months of litigation, the city of Chico and the plaintiffs in Warren v. Chico reached an agreement, the details of which were released Thursday night.
It was announced that the settlement had been reached following a closed-door meeting of the Chico City Council on January 4, although the terms of the settlement could not be made public at the time due to pending approval by the presiding judge. The council is due to take a final vote at its meeting on Tuesday.
Part of the settlement consists of measures already in place, such as an emergency pallet shelter at a former BMX park on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, which was paid for by Butte County and will be maintained by the City of Chico. This site will offer “at least 50 but no more than 177” pallet shelters for the homeless.
Each shelter must be at least 64 square feet for two people, the settlement document says. An additional 50 square feet must be added for each additional person allowed to share the same apartment, although an interior floor cannot exceed 400 square feet.
Individual shelters must have locks on doors and windows, and access to electricity with at least one lighting fixture, as well as heating and air conditioning.
Pallet shelters will be organized into groups or “pods” of 50 people. The city has the ability to assign these pods to specific populations, such as a women-only pod. The blocks will need some form of address system, such as numbers or letters, and the address must be visible.
No tenant is required to share an apartment with other tenants, however it is stated that if there is more than one bed in a room, the tenant may choose to share with another.
According to the settlement document, there must be at least two places for washing hands per capsule and at least three toilets per capsule. If this amount is not enough, the city will be required to add more.
Drinking water will be provided, as well as services such as garbage collection and laundry. There will also be a kitchen area on the territory where residents will prepare food.
“One-time meals for all residents of the residential complex through a ready-made food service,” the document says. “The two additional meals per day should consist of providing passengers with à la carte meals such as light pastries and snacks for breakfast and sandwiches and snacks for lunch. Residents should also have access to hot water and microwave ovens for cooking.”
Other required facilities include common areas, private meeting rooms for service providers, a smoking area, bicycle parking, a pet walking area, storage for personal items, and outdoor lighting.
The facility will also be labeled “low barrier”, meaning there are no sobriety requirements for admission. However, the use of prohibited substances at the facility may be prohibited.
The agreement also called for the city to pay eight plaintiffs a total of $12,000, or $1,500 each, and cover attorneys’ fees totaling $650,000 for Northern California legal fees.
The complaint against the city was originally filed in April 2021 after the city council voted to remove all homeless encampments from local parks with the help of the Chico Police Department. A series of plaintiffs, consisting of Bobby Warren, Andy Lambach, Jonathon Williams, Michael Samuelson, Tracey Miller, Tona Peterson, Carol Beth Thompson, and Christa Stevens, filed suit against the city and the police department, with the involvement of the Northern California Legal Service.
The plaintiffs argued that the city cannot remove the homeless from the right-of-way without proper shelter in place, which was determined as such by Judge Morrison S. England. He issued a temporary restraining order against the city, which was later changed to a preliminary injunction.
For years, the constant debate about how to help the homeless population has divided many Chico residents. Some groups are pushing for facilities and assistance for the homeless, while others are refusing help for fear of attracting homeless people from other areas.
Angela McLaughlin, a supporter of the shelters, said she supports the outcome of the settlement after reading the published document.
“I am very pleased with what Northern California Legal Services has achieved with this settlement,” McLaughlin said. “These are sound solutions that service providers and supporters have been asking for for a long time. It’s unfortunate that the city had to spend millions of dollars on litigation instead of getting it right in the first place, but it’s an important step towards compassionate, thoughtful and fact-based solutions.”
Chico council member Sean Morgan, who was among the councilors who advocated for the camps to be removed from the parks, said the document could be revisited over time.
“It was a settlement or a permanent injunction,” Morgan said. “All members of the council met with the judge, the chief of police and his senior leadership met with the judge. It was our best chance to get back into law enforcement, and we took it. It’s workable, and anything that doesn’t work can be reviewed with a judge. The plaintiffs had all the leverage.”
This article will be updated throughout the day with more information on the settlement and reactions from key players.