County, city squabble over CHIP project

It’s not often that county Supervisor Jane Dolan finds conservative Chico City Councilman Larry Wahl agreeing with her, but that’s what happened at the Tuesday (Dec. 19) council meeting. That, and a little dust-up at the back of chambers.

At immediate issue was an August decision by the council—acting as the city’s redevelopment agency—to purchase property at the corner of Wisconsin and Boucher streets, in unincorporated Chapmantown, on which the Community Housing Improvement Program wants to build several self-help houses.

For reasons that weren’t given, Councilwoman Ann Schwab had asked that an action taken on Nov. 21, not to make a certain technical correction to the title of the original resolution authorizing the purchase, be reconsidered. The occasion turned into a sharp exchange, however, with Dolan and County Counsel Bruce Alpert complaining that the city had failed to honor an agreement to confer with the county on such purchases in the Chapman-Mulberry district, and Dolan charging that the city’s purchase price was “too high by a very large amount.”

(Earlier in the evening, during a break, as Alpert, Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi and Schwab—and a reporter who just happened to be sitting in their midst—looked on, Dolan had gotten into an angry tussle with one of the sellers of the property, real estate broker Bill Carter, at the back of council chambers. Tempers flared and voices rose as Carter charged that Dolan was “killing” a project that was good for Chapmantown and Dolan countered that he’d made “a killing” on the sale.)

The project is supported in Chapmantown, said Mark Hooper, a nurse who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. At a recent meeting of Team Chapman, the erstwhile Chapmantown neighborhood association, attended by 23 people, “everyone agreed that an owner-built project that increased owner-occupied houses would be good for the neighborhood,” he said.

The director of CHIP, Dave Farrier, urged the council to move forward on the project, saying his organization had a waiting list of 2,000 people in Chico who wanted to participate in a self-help home construction program.

Dolan, who throughout her 28 years as a supervisor has fiercely championed Chapmantown, agreed the project was valuable. She was just unhappy with the process taken—especially the facts that the county hadn’t been consulted, as called for by previous agreements, and too much taxpayer money was being spent.

City Manager Greg Jones disagreed that the city was required to consult with the county about every “opportunistic purchase” it wanted to make, but Dolan noted that the county had been consulted regarding other projects in the area, including a Habitat for Humanity project on 16th Street, and said there needed to be discussion about this one, too.

“I have no desire to slow down the process,” she told the council.

For his part, Carter said he was caught in the middle of a squabble between the county and city. It wasn’t his idea to sell to the city, he said; the city had approached him. And the money he was to be paid—$495,000 plus fees for a parcel he’d bought a year earlier for $365,000—wasn’t determined by him, but by the redevelopment agency’s appraiser.

Wahl then agreed with Dolan that the price was too high for less than an acre of land that didn’t even have sewer and water services yet. “Some of us,” he said, clearly not referring to himself, “have ramrodded it through, cost be damned.”

In the end, councilmembers decided that the county officials had a point and that it would be worthwhile—especially with two new members on the council and a relatively new city manager on board—to review the city’s agreements with the county and even, sometime in the future, set up a joint meeting between the council and the Board of Supervisors to go over them.

In addition, they voted 5-2, with Wahl and Councilman Steve Bertagna dissenting, to reconsider the resolution Jan. 16. Hope was also expressed that a city-county confab and a neighborhood meeting could take place before then.