On the 6th of November, 2007, Chico's City Council voted 4-3, to put a Disorderly Events Ordinance into municipal code. It would allow the Chico Police Department to breakup gatherings that have become disorderly or where illegal activity is suspect in order to ensure public safety. The controversial ordinance was formally introduced on September 4 when Councilmember Larry Wahl seconded Councilmember Steve Bertagna's motion. Some citizens of Chico claim that it goes too far with broad event coverage and so may infringe on free speech rights enjoyed by protesters.

Read the 2007 ordinance here: cdm940.pdf

A Controversial Law

Thus the Chico Citizens for Civil Rights began a petition for referendum that needed to collect at least 4321 verifiable signatures of registered voters in Chico. The Chico Peace & Justice Center helped to mobilize a grass-roots effort to help ensure success of this democratic pursuit. Chico Citizens for Civil Rights managed over 4940 signatures but they have yet to be verified by a judge. In January, 2008, the verifying judge gave notice that there were not enough signatures to initiate a referendum. Furthermore, the ACLU of Northern California sent the City Council a letter on January 2nd, 2008. It provided a lawyer's reasoning as to why the law could be considered unconstitutional. With he urging of Mayor Scott Gruendl, the ordinance was discussed at the first council meeting of 2008 on January 15. With a relatively large audience, the City Council decided that a reformulation of language would be necessary.

In a letter to the Chico ER's editor dated 23 January, 2008, Councilman Larry Wahl expressed much concern over the rewrite. He wrote that the majority decision to send the ordinance back to the IAC "reeks of bald-faced pandering to a small group of special interest political supporters of Chico's liberal council members." Mr. Wahl then stated that Chico has had a "serious" problem with disorderly events for over "20 years" and claimed the ordinance in no way violated constitutional rights.

Several council members reported that their properties were vandalized and quickly attributed it to the ordinance. Tom Nickell, at the January 15 Council meeting, called the vandalism a "form of terrorism"1.

Arguments for the 2007 Ordinance

  • Allows police to be able to compel attendees of unsafe events, where crimes are occurring, to leave the area without having to raise the enforcement to the misdemeanor level.
  • The ordinance will set a clear community standard that criminal activity will not be tolerated.
  • The ordinance will also set up a significant amount of peer pressure among attendees to keep their friends safe and lawful.
  • Adoption of this ordinance would allow the Police Department to focus on the specific criminality at "disorderly events" and would serve as a tool for the police to use to maintain public safety.

Arguments against the 2007 Ordinance

  • Ordinance gives the police new, enhanced powers to hassle people who are enjoying themselves.
  • The list of events covered is not realistic.
  • There is no rational connection between many of the enumerated violations and disorderly events.
  • The police already have all the tools they need to control parties. Numerous penal and Chico Municipal Codes exist to control riotous situations. The police should use existing laws, specifically Penal Code Sections 406, 407 & 408 to protect the public.
  • This ordinance throws any concept of due process and freedom of assembly out.

The Council Votes

The Council voted for the original ordinance in the following way on November 6, 2007:

The Ordinance Rewritten

By the end of March, 2008, the Internal Affairs Committee reviewed and amended the original ordinance. The language became more specific as to the character of a gathering and ramifications of unlawful or other events constituting an emergency while being much less specific about kinds of gatherings. It no longer listed specific gatherings such as assemblies, carnivals, fairs, and parades:

"... any gathering or congregation of people, whether planned or unplanned, at which the behavior of attendees of the event is violent or otherwise of a nature that creates a danger to the safety of other attendees of the event, the public or public safety officers responding to the event or at which, due to the crowded nature of an event, the officers are unable to obtain access to reported or observed illegal activity or a medical emergency without requiring some or all of the attendees to disperse.

'Disorderly event' includes, but is not limited to, an event at which the attendees throw objects that may inflict injury or damage, including but not limited to, rocks, bottles, cans or other objects, missiles or projectiles"2

This version of the ordinance was considered City Council on April 1st, 20083. The ACLU Chico Chapter and Chico Peace & Justice Center expressed a desire to review the language further. The city council then unanimously approved the new language but amended it to say that "...it is not the intent of the City Council that this ordinance be applied to peaceful assemblies or gatherings" 4. Larry Wahl, who originally was against the rewrite, was very upbeat over the changes.

On April 15th, the ordinance was approved at the opposition of a group of citizens and the Board of the Chico Peace & Justice Center5:


1. http://www.newsreview.com/chico/Content?oid=613879
2. http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/City_Clerk/Agenda_Documents/4-01-08%204.1.pdf
3. http://www.chico.ca.us/_mod_minute/content/58_4_01_08_Agenda_4-1-2008.pdf
4. http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_8779299
5. Regular Chico City Council Meeting Minutes, April 15 2008, http://www.chico.ca.us/City_Council/Home_Page.asp