Baseball flies into Otterson plans

Timing questioned on grandiose proposal for south Chico ballpark development

READY-MADE PARKING LOT: Actually, the black patch shown here is the asphalt cap that sits on two acres of soil contaminated with arsenic, which was used to control weeds that grew along the railroad tracks that cross the old Diamond Match property.

READY-MADE PARKING LOT: Actually, the black patch shown here is the asphalt cap that sits on two acres of soil contaminated with arsenic, which was used to control weeds that grew along the railroad tracks that cross the old Diamond Match property.

Photo by Paul Fuselier

You decide: Voters will decide the fate of the Otterson bridge and road extension project in a June 5 special election. Supporters say it will alleviate traffic congestion, help create jobs, provide emergency access and provide a new park site. Opponents charge that it’s a classic boondoggle that will pave over lush riparian habitat.

Unintentional or not, plans to build a baseball stadium, museum, business park and residences in a mixed-use development of the 133-acre Diamond Match property in south Chico are now part of the argument over Measure A, the vote to determine whether a bridge is to be built over Comanche Creek.

Last week the Enterprise-Record reported the ambitious plan with a front-page story that quoted project spokesman Duane Abbott as saying passage of Measure A would help the project, noting that traffic into the area would burden the 16th Street entrance to the property. The story was written by E-R business writer Laura Urseny, who also writes a column for the Chico Chamber of Commerce, which strongly supports Measure A, both politically and financially (see InsideView, page 5).

Urseny quotes Abbott as saying the toxic problems that were discovered on the property in 1987 “have all but been handled.”

In 1989, Louisiana-Pacific, which purchased the property from Diamond in 1984, began, under state order, a toxics investigation. Two year later the state Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered L-P to start cleaning up the property.

According to Katherine Polan, a Chico State graduate student who researched the property’s history for two years while writing her thesis, 32,500 cubic yards of soil contaminated with arsenic have been removed from eight sites, and another two-acre site was capped with asphalt in the early 1990s. In 1997 a pump-and-treat system was installed to deal with the pentachlorophenol-contaminated water plumes that run beneath the property.

The asphalt cap may never be removed nor can the area it covers be used for residences, a hospital, school or day care center. The water treatment system must operate until at least 2007, and probably beyond. However, other areas may be suitable for residential use, the DTSC says.

“There are three ways to make things ‘clean,'” Polan said. “You eliminate the hazard—remove the cubic yards of soil, sever the connection to the toxics; lay the asphalt cap; or remove the people and leave the contamination in place.”

Two days after Urseny’s story appeared, the E-R ran a second front-page report that noted the traffic problems associated with the Diamond Match plan. In that story, Abbott says the timing of the announcement has nothing to do with Measure A, and that the bridge connection called for in Measure A is in the wrong place.

He told the News & Review, “So we have some sort of [traffic] circulation, there needs to be a loop around Chico. That was our point, instead of just thinking about Otterson.” The loop road would pass on the south and west sides of the property and connect with Dayton Road near Walnut Street.

Katherine Polan, wrote her master’s thesis on the contamination of the property that may one day be home to a new baseball field.

Photo by Tom Angel

Abbott said the bridge and extension, being pushed by the owner of the Hegan Lane Business Park and a four-member majority of the City Council, would provide a “partial solution.” Yet another bridge, in addition to the one on which voters will decide June 5, would be needed to link the Otterson extension to Abbott’s loop road.

In fact, according to the Web site of the nonprofit organization put together to organize the Diamond Match project, Otterson Drive is key. On that site, Abbott himself has written that, “in order to accomplish these goals,” certain criteria must be met. The first criterion he lists is: “The Otterson Extension measure passes the June 5 election.”

Passage of the measure would allow the city to extend Otterson Drive out of the Hegan Lane Business Park and build a bridge over Comanche Creek that would connect to the South Park/Midway intersection. Proponents say it would ease traffic in that area and bring jobs to Chico by making the business park more attractive to potential businesses that may move here.

Opponents say the project, which will cost $2.9 million, is a taxpayer giveaway to a few businessmen who will benefit, that it will wreck the riparian habitat along the creek, and that there are other, more pressing traffic congestion problems that need addressing in Chico.

Abbott, an insurance adjuster and partner in the Lindo Hanna & Abbott insurance firm, is listed as a supporter of Measure A on a mailer sent out in favor of the project. Lindo Hanna & Abbott gave $500 to the Coalition for Parks and Jobs, the fund-raising committee for Measure A.

Abbott said property owner Jeff Greening of Rancho Murieta purchased the property in February 1999. Greening, he said, is a friend and client. Initially, Abbott said, Greening talked with Chico State University about using the property, but that fell through. The idea of building a baseball field is a fairly recent one. The Kansas City-based architectural firm HOK, which built Pacific Bell Stadium in San Francisco as well as Cleveland’s Jacobs Field and Baltimore’s Camden Yards, has visited the site, Abbott said. This stadium would be called “The Yard.”

Greening, he said, is mostly interested in preserving the historic buildings that remain on the 133-acre site.

"[Greening] needed a big statement; he needed to connect to something,” Abbott said about Greening’s plan for a baseball field. “The city’s talked about developing it, the [Chico] City [Light] Opera talked about it. But it’s too expensive.”

Abbott noted the plans are in the earliest of stages and that a feasibility study is needed. “We still have to find out if this is the right thing to do,” he said.

Michael Pike, a spokesperson for Measure A opponents, does not think the timing was coincidental.

“I think it was timed to have an influence [on the outcome of Measure A],” Pike said. “But it’s just another example of bad planning, to locate a major project like this so far from a freeway.

“But I do think this was a concerted effort, when you consider this project is so far off in the future."