Disc golfers get green light on Hwy 32 site

Council flips, allowing five years to relocate short course

FIVE YEARS, OR PERMANENT?<br> Though the Chico City Council has set a five-year timeframe for relocating the short course, one of the two dissenting councilwomen doubts the city can ever “undo what we’ve done.”

Though the Chico City Council has set a five-year timeframe for relocating the short course, one of the two dissenting councilwomen doubts the city can ever “undo what we’ve done.”

Photo By meredith J. cooper

Game over?

When it comes to disc golf and the Chico City Council, it’s risky to suggest that the issue might finally be resolved. After all, the council has been going back and forth on it for at least 10 years.

As recently as April 21, in fact, it approved a Caper Acres site for a relocated short course, leaving the long course at the original, and controversial, Highway 32 site in Upper Bidwell Park. But just three minutes later, it voted to reconsider keeping the course at that same site.

Well, it did that reconsidering Tuesday night (May 19), and after yet another long public hearing voted 5-2, with Mary Flynn and Ann Schwab dissenting, to leave the short course on the hill for at least five years.

There are conditions to the approval. Councilman Andy Holcombe, whose preference was to keep looking for an in-town site for the short course, as the council had decided to do on Jan. 6, asked that the short course be relocated within five years.

“I want to lock in a date … as a public-policy objective,” he said.

For whatever reason, the council apparently had changed its mind about the Caper Acres site. Flynn was mystified. “We never vetted Caper Acres,” she said. “We never looked at what was needed to make it work.” She also noted that the council had agreed to allow 18 months to find a new site but so far had spent only 133 days.

With Caper Acres shunted aside, however, and all other possible sites being either of poor quality or objectionable to one group or another (e.g. equestrians who didn’t like a site proposed near their riding arena in the Hooker Oak area), the only site left was the Highway 32 one.

As supporters pointed out, the two courses were included in the Bidwell Park Master Management Plan, which states their impacts can be mitigated. In addition, the council had allowed their continued use during the search for an alternative short-course site—but without mitigation.

In the meantime, the golfers have formed a group, the Outsiders, obtained nonprofit status, begun raising money and are ready to begin implementing mitigation measures and otherwise managing the site, Lon Glazner, the group’s president, told the council.

“You have to trust us at some point to do it,” he said.

Opponents were chagrined. As Emily Alma told the council, speaking of the decision that left the long course in place but would have relocated the highly used short course, “It wasn’t an easy compromise to make. … I’m really shocked that it’s coming back.”

Councilman Scott Gruendl, author of the original compromise, agreed with her but thought 18 months wasn’t sufficient time to find a new site. He supported allowing five years, saying a good site might come forth in that time period. He also believed it was important to begin mitigating the impacts on the Highway 32 site.

So, game over? Flynn thinks so. “We’re deluding ourselves if we think we can make them relocate the course after five years,” she said. “We won’t be able to undo what we’ve done.”

Schwab agreed, but the mayor also spoke for everyone when she added that she was eager to put the issue behind her “and work on the things … all of us care about in Chico.”

There’s one more step to take, however: The city and the Outsiders group must sign a memorandum of understanding governing operation of the courses and oversight of the mitigation measures.

In other council news, Finance Director Jennifer Hennessey, in her third-quarter report for fiscal year 2008-09, had both bad and good news for the council.

The bad news is that the city of Chico’s revenues in fiscal year 2008-09 are down by $860,000. The good news is, through three quarters, the city has spent less than budgeted by slightly more than $1 million. The net effect: The budget is balanced, at least for now.

Hennessey said the city’s success in renegotiating employee contracts had led to an increase in pay-and-benefits costs of only 1.2 percent, “the lowest … in recent history.”

Indeed, when it comes to expenses the city is doing well, she said. The problem is that revenues continue to decrease because of the recession. That’s especially true of sales taxes, which were down 7.9 percent in 2008 from 2007.

When she presents her 2009-10 budget proposal to the council on June 16, Hennessey said, it will assume even lower revenues—down 6.6 percent—based on current trends. She expects it to require further cuts in operating expenses.

Asked by Gruendl how the city would respond if the state raided its funds, Hennessey replied that she expected the amount would be “a little over $1.2 million” and that she would recommend that it be taken from the emergency reserve, which now holds $6.6 million. By law, the money would have to be repaid within three years, with interest, she said.