by Dave Waddell
Chico landlords who price-gouge in the aftermath of the devastating Camp Fire will be in violation of an emergency ordinance passed unanimously today by the City Council.
Chico City Manager Mark Orme told the Council that “city staff received multiple reports of significant price increases on rentals and other goods and services” in the wake of the inferno that has annihilated Paradise and become the most destructive fire in California history. The Camp Fire has consumed more than 140,000 acres, destroyed 9,700 homes and left at least 63 people dead and in excess of 600 missing. More than 52,000 people were evacuated.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit the area and meet with survivors Saturday.
The regulations put in place today in Chico were described as using “best practice” rising from the Tubbs Fire last year in Santa Rosa, after which there were “reports that individuals were paying over $8,000 a month for a small three-bedroom home,” Orme reported to the Council.
Steve Depa, representing the North Valley Property Owners Association, told the Council that while the group normally opposes rent controls, “these are not normal times and we certainly recognize that.”
The price-gouging ordinance generally bans rent increases and other price hikes that exceed 10 percent. Depa said the association was concerned about how the law would affect pricing for new rental housing units as well as for apartments that have rented at below-market rates and then change tenants.
Though the ordinance will be in effect for six months, Council members indicated a willingness to consider changes during the period, if warranted.
Depa estimated that 30 to 40 percent of Chico’s workforce resided in Paradise, so the importance to employers of easing the housing crisis for fire refugees is critical. Valuable workers may be forced to leave the area because of the housing shortage, he warned.
“This is not a Paradise problem; this is a Chico problem,” Depa said. “If we don’t react … to this situation, we’ll lose our employees.”
Councilman Karl Ory said “having to scrap ice off my (car) window really drives home what people are facing,” while Depa added that his general hope for rain is countered by a concern for the additional problems it creates for the unsheltered.
Among others speaking to the Council was Dan Herbert, director of housing for Chico State, which has cancelled classes through the Thanksgiving break due to Camp Fire impacts.
Herbert said at least 500 current students show a “permanent” residence address in the fire-ravaged communities of Paradise, Magalia or Concow in university records.
Herbert said Chico State is “exploring every avenue possible” in addressing student and staff housing needs, including using the University Farm for temporary trailer parking. A website is also is being created to connect university staff with students looking for housing, which could “reduce need in the community by helping our own.”
Patrick Newman, who said he advocates for the human rights of people in public spaces, said those losing homes in Paradise “are all people who lived on the edge … thousands of them,” who will join Chico’s existing homeless population, whose “world (also) burned down at some point. It’s all one people.”
Orme also told the Council of today’s opening of a Local Assistance Center (LAC) in the building formerly occupied by Sears at the Chico Mall, 1982 E. 20th St. The LAC will house various relief agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Camp Fire survivors are asked to register with FEMA online before visiting the center, if possible. The FEMA helpline is 1-800-621-3362.
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.