Another view of the bridge
A conversation with long-time city planner Clif Sellers
If anyone knows the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the Otterson Bridge project, it’s Clif Sellers.
As a senior planner for the city of Chico, Sellers is the city’s contact person for the project. His name and phone number appear on the 220-page environmental-impact report. He gives the City Council the rundown on the project whenever it is broached at a council meeting.
Sellers has lived in Chico most of his life, growing up here and then raising a family. He is professional, personable and no stranger to the politics of Chico. And he claims no bias in the Otterson debate. Ask him about the two sides and he’ll shrug his shoulders, smile and say, “They both have their points."About two weeks before the Measure A election, I sat down with Sellers in his second-floor City Municipal Building office to quiz him about the project. What follows is version of our talk, edited for space.
CN&R: There’s a history here, isn’t there, for some type of road improvement project in this part of town?
Sellers: Yes. For years there has been some sort of vision for a road that roughly parallels Comanche Creek coming from the East Park Avenue intersection, going westerly, then tying into Highway 32 as kind of a westside route. It’s been in city plans since the middle ‘60s. Land south of the creek where the Hegan Lane Industrial Park now sits has been designated and zoned for industrial use for a long time. … Certainly there was some contemplation that having an arterial route through there would provide access to the area.
What do you think sparks the debate? What sparks the opposition?
I think the people who live in the area, particularly down Estes Road, have a real concern about how it will affect the environment of the creek. I think they chose to live next to the creek because they have a certain connection to it, and that connection extends not just to their property but to up and down the creek as well.
The idea to build the bridge has been around for a while, but did it recently, so to speak, vault over other projects to become a priority?
The short answer is yes; the longer answer is that that’s really not uncommon. Essentially, council annually goes through the capital projects and changes priorities. In some cases priority goes away. What always comes to mind for me is Fifth and Salem, which was scheduled as a stoplight project because the traffic there was pretty gnarly. As an interim measure, until they got the stoplight installed, they put in stop signs, and son of a gun it works just fine with stop signs. So why spend $100,000 to signalize it? The priority for that dropped to zero. There’ve been other projects where there has perhaps been a matching grant to reduce the cost and that would move them up.
So to find out why this one is elevated, you’d have to ask the councilmembers themselves.
Yeah. Like I say, they have that list.
The argument being made here is that it would alleviate traffic problems in that area. Traffic problems along the Midway and East Park are expected to reach a level of service that is not acceptable, right?
Yeah, and the time frame that we looked at was about a 20-year horizon starting around 1998. Assuming historic growth rates, that time frame would go to 2018.
What is the source of this traffic?
As I recall, about 40 percent is business-park generated. The remainder is just people coming in off Entler and Speedway. And Durham traffic is ever increasing. … I think people are choosing to live there and then commuting to Chico to work.
Arguments are used by both sides citing what the traffic study in the EIR says. What does it really say?
It says that you can make improvements to the existing road system at the intersections that should be able to handle the anticipated traffic. It also says if you build the Otterson Drive extension you don’t have to build as many of those other improvements and those other intersections will operate better than they would with just the improvements and without Otterson. It’s a balancing act. You push down on one impact and something else increases.
Will this property be annexed no matter what happens with Measure A? Can the council force annexation regardless of what the Thommasons want?
There is what’s called the “annexation-of-islands law,” which says if [land is] completely surrounded by the city, is less than 75 acres, and can be served by the city, the city can initiate annexation, though the owners can protest. LAFCO may approve it, finding it doesn’t make any sense to have it removed from the city.
Then the city could have a bit more control over what could be built there.
Who benefits most from building this bridge here?
I think you have to look at that both short term and long term. Short term it probably helps not only [business park owner Doug] Guillon and the Hegan Lane Industrial Park, but also the owners of the other industrial land up next to the railroad tracks and posed for subdivision. Then there is another 30-acre-parcel in the area. Ultimately those owners are going to benefit as well. So I think there is short-term direct benefit for the property owners who are marketing the land for industrial use. I think in the longer term you could look at people who work there and ultimately own those properties. I think it will also provide some benefit to the people who live up to the southwest of town who’ll see Midway as a route they don’t have to avoid. And then the issue of the park. It’s been represented as part of the project, but there is no reason it couldn’t be a project of its own. So you could certainly add benefit to the community, whether it’s an active park of some sort or whether it’s a passive riparian open space.
How much time would the bridge save workers driving into the industrial park?
It’s a matter of two or three minutes. Ultimately it may in the range of four to five minutes. It’s not an expressway connecting Chico to Sacramento. It has no exits. It’s a minor savings.