Bidwell Ranch still in limbo

Bidwell Ranch, the 750 acres of undeveloped land that borders the entrance to Upper Bidwell Park and has been at the center of a debate over development for 20 years, will remain zoned for houses at least until after a new City Council is elected in November.

At the Oct. 5 council meeting, about 20 people, including six candidates for council, expressed their desires, ideas and devotions in connection with the environmentally sensitive land. Most said they want it to be zoned as open space, as the council tentatively decided last January and the Planning Commission recommended last month.

But this is a highly charged political issue and, coming this close to the Nov. 2 election, the resolution proved too elusive for the six-member council. Coleen Jarvis, who died last May, provided the fourth vote in January that seemed to finally end the debate. But the councilmembers who don’t want to close the land off to future development, Larry Wahl, Steve Bertagna and Dan Herbert, stuck to their guns, and in the end the council deadlocked 3-3 on changing the zoning.

A couple of speakers from a citizens’ group that has floated the idea of selling part of the property to a developer to help fund the building of city parks offered their opinions, and the three councilmember opposed to open land seemed to agree with them. But the night belonged mostly to those who want to see the land left open. The city purchased the property form Crocker Development in 1996 when it became clear there would be litigation by opponents if it was developed and litigation from the developer if it was denied.

Ten years earlier voters had strongly passed a referendum nixing a council-approved subdivision on the property.

This week the council was treated to a verbal parade of passion, nostalgia, anger and even a woman nursing a baby during the three-plus hour discussion. Councilmember Scott Gruendl warned that by selling off part of the property would mean risking court action, and local attorney Paul Persons confirmed that, saying he would file if it came down to it.

For now the matter is dead until the new council gets elected.