A bridge too far

After hearing the arguments, considering the evidence and wrestling with the logic behind Measure A, we can come to only one conclusion: Now is not the time to cross that bridge. There are too many unanswered questions swirling around the need to extend Otterson Drive from the Hegan Lane Industrial Park across Comanche Creek to the East Park Avenue/Midway intersection. We recommend a “no” vote on Measure A.

For one, we don’t yet know how the Diamond Match property to the west will develop. Since that is a key area that could well fulfill the mixed-use-neighborhood goals of the General Plan, its development should be the driving force behind traffic circulation plans in southwest Chico. A few weeks ago, the owner of the property floated an idea that included building a minor-league baseball field and a timber museum that would be mixed in with light industry and residential development. It’s a nice idea, though sketchy at this point. But it did allow us to reflect on just what is the best way to develop the traffic patterns in that part of town.

The Otterson Drive extension and bridge comprise a piecemeal project—an expensive piece at that. There is a bigger picture to consider. There are several transportation options in the area; the bridge is only one of them. Once it’s built, however, there will be only one way to make the so-called “western link” to the Diamond Match property, and that will be by building yet another bridge across Comanche Creek, at even greater expense, financially and environmentally.

The need for the Otterson Drive entrance into the business park is not pressing—it was part of a 20-year projection that predicts eventual failure of the intersections along the Midway at Park Avenue and Hegan Lane.

Sometime in the future the city probably will have to build a connection that will destroy some of the riparian habitat along Comanche Creek. All effort should be made to minimize that destruction. Those who want to protect the property are not obstructionists, as their opponents have painted them. They are conservationists who see value in natural habitat.

And those who look to the future and see the possibilities of economic development are not greedy land grabbers with nothing but self-interest in mind. Business park owner Doug Guillon has paid development impact fees and deserves a share of the pie. But he doesn’t deserve to have this project moved ahead of other, more pressing traffic improvement needs, simply because he helped finance the election of four of the seven councilmembers.

Should A fail, we urge the owners of the property not to build an environmentally damaging project out of spite. Just to be safe, however, we also encourage the council to move ahead with annexation of the property so that the city will have some say in what gets built there. What we’d really like to see—again, if Measure A fails—is for the council majority to purchase the property.

We urge all parties not to react out of malice or anger after the final vote is tallied. Please do what is best for the people of Chico.