CHICO, Calif. -- Liberal city commissioners strengthened a plan to ban nuclear research and development in Chico but bowed to 'international ridicule' and scrapped a proposal for a $500 fine against anyone dropping an atomic bomb on the town.
Commissioners Monday night voted 6-1 to urge the City Council to pass the ban as an ordinance with the weight of law rather than in the weaker form of a resolution, suggested by planning Director Thomas Lando, to help avoid legal problems.
'I don't feel I'll be able to go to sleep tonight unless I do this,' said Commissioner Armeda Fretwell, who made the successful motion.
The liberal council is expected to endorse the ban, possibly early next month. Three of its seven members, including the mayor and vice mayor, belong to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, spearheaded by former anti-war activist Tom Hayden to promote more public involvement in private enterprise.
In the city's first public hearing on the proposal, advocated by the Chico Peace Center, Lando said it was unclear whether Chico had authority to preempt state and federal laws by declaring itself a 'nuclear free zone.'
Sixteen citizens testified for the proposal to make Chico the third California community, after Isla Vista and Claremont, to forbid research, development or deployment of nuclear weapons within its borders.
Proponents said 27 other communities in the country have enacted similar bans, but they are largely symbolic because the towns, like Chico, have little or no nuclear research under way.
America's farthest-reaching nuclear ban would take effect in 1985 if voters in Cambridge, Mass., approve a ballot measure to outlaw development of atomic weapons in their city, home of high-tech companies with major defense contracts.
Violation of the Chico proposal would be a misdemeanor, punishable under statestatutes that provide fines up to $1,000 and a year in jail.
A provision that would have imposed a penalty of $500 and six months in jail for detonating a nuclear bomb in Chico was dropped after it became the brunt of jokes by Johnny Carson and others.
'There was national and even international ridicule,' complained Ellen Simon of the Chico Peace Center.
The ordinance would prohibit radioactive materials within the borders of the college community of 27,000, located about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Exemptions from the ban would be made for medical purposes, for research unrelated to nuclear weapons and for 'consumer products' such as smoke detectors and watches that might have radioactive parts.