City’s sewer stink

Council doesn’t like the smell of mandatory annexation

These photos illustrate just how much land the city annexed between 1990 (bottom) and 2008 (top). Dark areas are in the city, white areas in the county.

These photos illustrate just how much land the city annexed between 1990 (bottom) and 2008 (top). Dark areas are in the city, white areas in the county.

Maps courtesy of city of chico

The city of Chico and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), agencies that must work together, are not in agreement these days when it comes to extending sewers to unincorporated areas within the Chico urban area.

As the CN&R’s Tom Gascoyne previously reported (“Chapped in Chapmantown,” Jan. 5), the city historically has been willing to hook up county residents even if they haven’t annexed. Now, though, LAFCo, the über-agency that oversees cross-jurisdictional development in the county, wants to link sewer extension to annexation by having residents who connect to a city sewer line sign a covenant pledging not to oppose annexation.

The agency also wants to make annexation mandatory when a majority of residents have signed such covenants and is telling the city to complete an “ultimate annexation plan” that will guarantee annexation within five to seven years.

To members of the City Council, that poses two problems: making sewer connection dependent on annexation will discourage some people from hooking up, they believe, and by annexing more residents the city will take on additional expenses (for roads and other services) it can’t afford.

At their meeting Tuesday (April 3), council members—minus an absent Mary Goloff—were tasked with deciding how to respond to LAFCo’s request for an ultimate annexation plan.

This all stems from a 1990 state determination that the many septic systems in Chico were contributing to nitrate pollution and had to be removed. Since then the city has extended sewer lines without requiring annexation but has managed to annex 7,000 residents under its voluntary program (see maps), increasing the city’s size by 33 percent.

In 2011, however, LAFCo began linking sewer connection directly to annexation. It allowed the city to continue extending sewers under an interim agreement that required residents to sign covenants. The agreement expires in June.

Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans both expressed concerns about the costs of annexation at this time, noting that under an old tax-sharing agreement, 55 percent of the property taxes from annexed lands go to the county.

Ultimately all the unincorporated islands in the urban area, as well as Chapmantown, will annex to the city, noted Vice Mayor Jim Walker. “So the question is, how do we do it with the funds we have. … We need to decide what we can live with and let LAFCo know.”

Mayor Ann Schwab pointed out that, in the summer of 2011, when roads were being torn up in Chapmantown to make way for sewer lines, “people were wanting to hook up, but all of a sudden there were all these covenants to sign.”

She acknowledged that LAFCo’s mission is to eliminate pockets of county in the urban area, but hooking up to sewers is a public-health issue and more important than annexing at this time, she said.

After much discussion, the council agreed, 5-1, to continue with the covenants but to tell LAFCo that the city wouldn’t annex a given area until it knew it had sufficient resources to provide services. Councilman Andy Holcombe dissented out of opposition to the covenants. The council also decided to ask staff to try to renegotiate the tax-sharing agreement with Butte County.

In other council news: Citing state law prohibiting discrimination against renters, the council unanimously denied an appeal of Planning Commission approval of 23 rental units to be built on two remaining empty lots, at East 20th Street and Hutchinson, in the Doe Mill Neighborhood. Opponents argued that the rentals weren’t part of the original plan, which called for town houses. Council members noted, though, that it was very much in keeping with the general-plan and zoning-ordinance designations for the property.

Also, the council agreed to let the Butte Environmental Council build a 1-acre community garden on city-owned land at the corner of Humboldt and Notre Dame, across from Hank Marsh Junior High School and bordering Little Chico Creek. Council members waxed poetic about the many benefits of gardening.