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Residents Rally Against Moving City Hall, Council to Vote Thursday

Updated 10:52 p.m., July 21

As a proposal to relocate city hall moves to council for a vote this Thursday, Citrus Heights residents hosted a noontime “Save City Hall” rally at Rusch Park on Sunday — vowing to vote out council members who vote for replacing city hall with a three story medical building.

Save City Hall Rally in Citrus Heights
Save City Hall Coordinator Tim Schaeffer speaks at Sunday’s rally in Rusch Park, joined by volunteer Joan Bippus on the right.

“We’re gonna take every step that we possibly can to stop this project,” said Save City Hall coordinator Tim Schaeffer, mentioning his group had gathered over 1100 signatures to petition the council to vote against the proposal. He also warned city officials that his group plans to put the issue before voters through a referendum process — if the council votes to move city hall away from the civic center.

With four city council members in the audience, about a dozen residents took the opportunity to be heard from the microphone during the rally, voicing concerns over cost, location, environmental impacts and deviation from the General Plan.

“When Citrus Heights incorporated, the founding fathers wrote a General Plan and it stated that our civic buildings will be all placed in the same area,” said resident Susan Howell, referring to city hall’s current location next to the Police Department and community center. “Now the City is going to erase this and write in: the buildings can be scattered about.”

The Planning Commission voted earlier this month to recommend the council change the General Plan to allow for the proposal to be approved, despite vocal opposition during public comment.

Howell also expressed concern about the $500 per square foot cost that the proposed 34,000 square foot $18.9 million city hall would run, although Dignity Health would help pay for the cost through a 15-year lease of the current hall property on Fountain Square Drive.

Resident David Warren tossed in some more controversy during his time on stage, expressing concern that Catholic-founded Dignity Health would choose to not provide access for abortion if allowed to construct a new medical building. Although saying he had been “assured by the city administration” that protection for abortion access would be in a lease agreement, Warren said he wanted the text of a lease agreement to be public before the council votes.

Many speakers also accused the council of not listening to their concerns, a feeling shared by Schaeffer, who described City officials’ response as “dismissive.” Other residents, although expressing a sentiment that the proposal is a “done deal,” took a moment to thank four council members for attending the rally – with one speaker asking members to raise their hands so residents could speak with them afterward.

Mayor Mel Turner, who said he attended the rally to listen as a resident rather than as mayor, said warnings made by speakers about voting him out of office were a little “intimidating to hear.” He also highlighted a side comment he and Planning Commission Chairman Albert Fox said they heard from a well-known audience member who suggested “hanging” council members on nearby oak trees.

“I’m sure it was made in jest,” said Mayor Turner, saying that he knew the person making the comment and wouldn’t be taking the issue to police. He added that the comment was “definitely out of line,” although indicative of how heated sentiment from residents over this issue can be.

Mayor Turner is up for election in November, along with Jeannie Bruins and Steve Miller, all of whom were present at the rally. Races for council are still taking shape, as applicants have until August 8 to file nomination papers to run for a seat on the 5-member governing body.

Although many fingers were pointed at council members, resident Robert Wicker said he believed that City staff – rather than the council – were the real ones to blame.

“The reason we’re considering this is because City staff wants a new house,” Wicker told the crowd. “Any objections that come up, City staff says ‘oh that’s okay, I want a new house.’ So, we’re up against it folks.”

City officials have referred to the deal as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” where the City could get an $18.9 million new hall for an estimated net cost of about $5 million — primarily from leasing land for the medical building, as well as projected energy and repair savings coming from a new city hall, according to numbers released by the City.

Although hoping for a higher turnout, Schaeffer said he estimated about 60 people attended the rally, and hopes for a large turnout at Thursday’s council meeting where a final vote on the proposal is expected.

If you plan to go:

City Council Meeting
7:00 p.m., July 24
Council Chambers
7117 Greenback Lane
Citrus Heights, CA 95621

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