City should clean up eyesore

Park and 11th site is exactly what redevelopment was meant for

The Chico City Council has taken some hits lately because of its desire, acting as the local redevelopment agency, to clean up the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 11th Street, site of the long-defunct Taylor’s Drive-in. The idea is to build offices and affordable housing there and create a greenway along Little Chico Creek, on the property’s northern edge.

Nobody would argue that the site isn’t an eyesore and a classic example of the kind of urban blight redevelopment agencies were designed to clean up and restore. So what’s the beef here?

It’s too expensive, critics say—about $1.5 million for 1.5 acres. And certainly that seems like a lot. But the figure includes the cost of demolishing the buildings, as well as cleaning up an area long ago contaminated by spilled oil and gasoline. And there’s a good chance the city can get external funding for the cleanup, reports City Manager Dave Burkland.

The value of the property was established by an independent appraiser and is based on market value. If anything, this is a good time to buy; values are likely to rise in coming years. Otherwise, the decrepit buildings could sit there for decades, an ugly blotch at the southern entrance to downtown.

But wait, the critics charge, it’s a frivolous use of taxpayer dollars. Well, whether it’s frivolous is a matter of opinion. We believe cleaning up that corner is a worthy goal. But it’s equally important to remember that the money won’t come from the general fund, but rather from the redevelopment agency’s fund. There’s a difference.

The RDA money comes from tax increments—increased property-tax revenues resulting from the property’s increased value following redevelopment, money that otherwise would go to the state. And it can be used only for capital projects—buildings and infrastructure. The money for this project will come from RDA funds set aside specifically for low- and moderate-income housing.

The Park and 11th project is exactly what redevelopment is all about. The City Council is on the right track.