City attorney: “Public take over” was an emergency

In a Jan. 17 email to ChicoSol, City Attorney John Lam said the City was not in violation of the Brown Act when it held a Jan. 6 emergency meeting.

Lam said the use of City property near The Hands sculpture in back of the Municipal Center by the nonprofit Safe Space the previous day had amounted to a “public take over.”

Safe Space, which operates an emergency winter sheltering program, ran intake in the space from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 5, an operation that it says proceeded smoothly. The group’s leadership said it believed that it was using public property as defined in the City code, and wasn’t required to get special permission.

photo by Karen Laslo
Safe Space volunteers check in people who need shelter during an intake session that prompted an emergency City Council meeting.

The City code states, “All areas located within the civic center will be open to members of the public and accessible, used and entered only between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.”

Lam, however, said: “Safe Space’s unauthorized use of City property amounted to a public take over of City facilities during which a significant number of people … and vehicles occupied City property and facilities. Such unauthorized use constituted a disruption … and also exposed the City to potential legal liability.”

The Brown Act states that an “emergency” that justifies an emergency meeting is defined in this government code: “An emergency … that severely impairs public health, safety, or both…” and, “A dire emergency, which shall be defined as a crippling disaster, mass destruction, terrorist act …”

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether a Brown Act violation took place that merits a cease-and-desist letter. — Leslie Layton