Another parking structure fight looming?

Remember the great parking structure battle that raged in Chico a little more than a decade ago? Well, buckle your seatbelts, kids. A similar engagement could soon erupt.

The City Council, during its all-day meeting this week, voted 4-1 to move forward with plans to design a three- to five-story structure on the lot at Second and Wall streets that currently hosts the Saturday Farmers’ Market.

In the early-'90s the city was divided by the planning and eventual building of the parking structure that now sits on Salem Street between Third and Fourth streets. That skirmish got nasty, with at least one councilmember in favor of the structure calling those opposed “non-producers,” suggesting they were lazy leeches on society.

The structure would cost between $10.6 million (three levels) to $18 million (five levels). Three levels would provide about 450 additional parking spots.

“The actual design and details of the parking structure would be the subject of a community process,” City Manager Tom Lando wrote in a memo to the council. “This is extremely important to help resolve issues of access, appearances, future use for the Farmers’ Market and whether or not to include commercial space.”

Will history repeat itself? How will locals react to suggestions of doubling the parking meter rates and extending the meter-enforced hours into the evenings and weekends to help finance a bond to pay for the structure? And how will the farmers and their customers of the Saturday market react? What about those who support mass transit over mass parking?

Talk of the structure is still in its earliest stages. In January the council earmarked about a half-million dollars for design and an environmental review. Bids for the project could go out next summer. But as that time draws near, expect the battle lines to form.