Last Tuesday, in the morning hours before the last council meeting, I got an email from a reader asking about a city issue. That happens pretty regularly; I do my best to provide answers, in a reply if not an article.
This email said, “I have heard two figures as to what it would cost the city of Chico to participate in the lawsuit fighting the Boise verdict. I heard somebody say it was gonna cost us $50,000 to join the suit, and then I heard that it was going to cost $500,000 — do you know which figure is correct?”
I hadn’t heard either figure. I knew the city filed an amicus brief in a case under consideration by the Supreme Court seeking a definitive determination on policies surrounding homelessness, vis-a-vis the Martin v. Boise decision that shaped the settlement agreement for Warren v. Chico. I hadn’t heard the city would have further involvement requiring five- or six-figure funding; announcements out of the council’s closed sessions indicated no action taken on the matter.
So, I asked the city manager, Mark Sorensen. He responded within 10 minutes (his usual timeframe) saying the brief represented the extent of the city’s participation in the litigation and he’d know the cost when the law firm that acts as the city attorney’s office submitted its monthly invoice.
I relayed the information to the reader and thought that was the end of it.
Turns out, more Chicoans heard the rumor. A letter this week, published in Thursday’s edition, stated that “recently the Chico City Council contracted-out $50,000 to challenge the Supreme Court cases around Warren v. Chico.”
So, back to reporter mode.
Because diving deeper would get into confidential conversations in closed session, Sorensen couldn’t elaborate other than saying that “the report is factually flawed on two counts.” I take those two counts to be the venue of the challenged cases (federal appeals) and the $50,000 figure.
The city’s contract for attorney services calls for an hourly rate of $300 for litigation. Doing some quick division, $50,000 would yield 167 hours. That’s way more than a lawyer needs to write and file a brief, particularly one that draws on other municipalities’ filings. There’d even be time to drive to D.C. and deliver it in person.
For $500,000, they could walk.
I’d like to think at least one of the councilors, if presented with a $50,000 estimate, would have done the same math. (Closed session — don’t know.) I’ll be shocked at a $5,000 cost; hopefully, so would the city. Unless the council in fact green-lit that sizeable a budget, in which case, the decision should have been announced.
Based on all this, my gut tells me the rumor is apocryphal. But, since I’m trying to think less with my pudgy midsection, I’m keeping my eyes, ears and mind open. Tuesday’s closed session agenda includes a Warren v. Chico update.
Speaking of Tuesday’s meeting, the open session has a brief agenda, with the main item of business anticipating an action councilors can’t take until January — raise their compensation per a new state law. The longest portion may well prove to be public comment (a.k.a. business from the floor), which last time drew 29 speakers.
Residents from Pleasant Valley Mobile Estates plan to come in a charter bus to reiterate their request for rent stabilization. Last meeting also drew a crowd urging the council to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Councilors deemed the request beyond their purview; whether, and how many, advocates return in spite of the rebuff will set the extent of the comment period.
Evan Tuchinsky is weekend editor of the Enterprise-Record. You can reach him at email@example.com.