Boring copy

The Chico City Council this week wrestled with a couple of issues that are almost too complex to distill into readable copy. If I were to report every detail and try to explain every step of the process I’d lose you, the reader of this column, even faster than usual. Like the Safeway checker Danny tells me, “You know I read your column but, not to hurt your feelings or anything, I don’t like the political stuff.” Hey, Danny, I don’t either.

Suffice to say the council took on some land-use issues, which pretty much makes up most of what they do. In the first case, the council voted 5-2 to deny an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to allow Wal-Mart to subdivide some property it owns south of its cavernous building on Forest Avenue. Wal-Mart has tentative plans to expand its big operation someday to turn it into a “superstore” that includes a supermarket. The appellant, John Shannon, says such expansion will lead to the decay of downtown Chico. But the issue was whether to let Wal-Mart subdivide about 10 acres into two parcels. The property will be divided, in the words of Wal-Mart-hired consultant Bill Dunning, “to facilitate the development of a 3,200-square-foot fast-food restaurant and fueling station” on the smaller parcel. The real problem out there, of course, is traffic. It’s nuts. But studies show no significant negative impact along Forest if the expansion of the store (how big does it have to be?) and fast-food fueling stop go through. If something is already bad, you just don’t notice as much when it gets worse. I think the real debate is what combination of fast food and fuel will we have here? You can’t have too many of those businesses in one town. I envision an ARCO and Taco Bell. How about Shell and Burger King? Anybody up for an Exxon-Wendy’s marriage of convenience? In more civilized parts of the nation, like Arizona, they have combos of fast-food joints. No kidding. Can you imagine the plentiful and delicious offerings of Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken under one roof? And then to have an expanded Wal-Mart right next door! The mind reels at the thought. With efficiency like this, who cares if the downtown business corridor decays? Who needs it?

The other issue at hand for the council this week was that irritating problem of collecting enough fees to provide parks and facilities to keep up with our expanding population. The council, acting on a report from the Finance Committee, wanted to discuss what parks and facilities should be included in our park system. Apparently there is a $30 million gap between what the city needs in revenue and what it is currently collecting. The question is, who pays for it, existing residents or newcomers? For years the problem has been bottled up in committee, and it is just now getting to see some light of day at the council meetings. According to Councilmember Scott Gruendl, a member of the committee along with Chairman Dan Nguyen-Tan and Larry Wahl, the gap has been cut nearly in half the last seven months. Developer impact fees for new parks were lowered about $500 per unit three years ago. Then, last year, former Councilmember Rick Keene (remember him?) suggested a plan whereby park fees could be taken from the General Fund reserve whenever it topped $500,000, an unlikely scenario a best. But for now the council seems fairly well together on this park fee matter, at least the required majority, and for the first time in years we may be making some real progress.

We just got the judges’ comments for this year’s California Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspapers Contest. We didn’t win anything, but we did come close, with Robert Speer and Devanie Angel each getting into the second round of consideration with two of their respective entries. As for mine, the judge’s comments say it all: “Obviously this is the work of a struggling writer for whom English is a second or maybe even third language. We appreciate your plucky attitude but suggest you go home to you native land and maybe look into becoming a cab driver.” Thanks.