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Informational meeting reveals new as well as longstanding concerns about annexation into Chico

Chico City Manager Mark Orme speaks at a meeting regarding Chapmantown’s annexation Tuesday night (April 10).

Chico City Manager Mark Orme speaks at a meeting regarding Chapmantown’s annexation Tuesday night (April 10).

Photo by Robert Speer

July 1, 2020, is a date that looms large in the minds of many Chapmantown residents. That’s when a major part of their neighborhood will be annexed into the city, and they’re anxious and in some cases angry about the prospect.

That was evident at a community meeting held Tuesday (April 10) in the multipurpose room at Chapman Elementary School. More than 100—perhaps as many as 150—residents put up with having to sit for 90 minutes on backless benches designed for third-graders in return for the opportunity to lob questions—and potshots—at about a dozen city and county officials, who at least enjoyed the relative comfort of sitting on folding metal chairs.

This unintentional disparity was mirrored by the comments one man made early on in response to protestations on the part of both city and county officials that there simply wasn’t enough money to solve all of the neighborhood’s problems. “That’s because it’s all going to your salaries,” he shouted. Then, turning to the audience, he asked, “Who here makes $80,000 or more? Raise your hand.” Not a single hand went up.

That set the tone for the opening half-hour of the meeting, which saw questions and comments flying around the room like escaped finches. Casey Hatcher, the county’s economic and community development manager, who was moderating the meeting, tried desperately to bring it to order.

It wasn’t until 40 minutes in, when someone asked a question about the annexation’s impact on the problems arising from homelessness, that things settled down. That’s because Chico’s police chief, Mike O’Brien, stood up to answer the question. He’s a tall man with an imposing but not unfriendly bearing, and besides he had a gun on his hip.

Homelessness is a problem everywhere in California, he said. It’s not going to be solved by law enforcement, but rather by collaboration among all the service and governmental groups.

His department has a Target Team that now includes a mobile crisis officer who can direct mentally ill homeless people to the appropriate service providers. “A lot of people in this community need help,” he said. “It’s not compassionate to leave people to sleep under a bridge.”

One major audience concern was a recent proposal from the Chico Area Recreation and Park District to ease auto congestion on the 20th Street/Community Park’s east side by extending the current park road to connect with Ohio Street on the park’s west side. Several residents were concerned about the impact this would have on that neighborhood.

Brendan Vieg, the city’s deputy director for planning services, said he could see the merits of the proposal, but nothing official has happened yet. If CARD does submit a formal proposal, it will have to go through an extensive environmental assessment before being approved, he said.

Otherwise, the questions posed were more or less the same as those that have been broached at other annexation meetings.

Several had to do with hooking up to the sewer system. No, it will not be required unless your septic tank fails.

People also wanted to know whether their taxes would go up. No, but those who have a landline phone will be required to pay a utility user’s tax of 5 percent.

Others wanted to know whether services, especially police and fire, will improve. The answer was that, in general, the city can provide identical or improved police and fire protection.

Others asked whether the city would maintain the neighborhood’s semi-rural nature and not start installing curbs, gutters and sidewalks. The answer was yes.

Finally, it was noted that a major advantage of annexation is that residents will be able to vote in city elections and serve on city boards and commissions. If they don’t like what the city is doing to their neighborhood, they can run for office.