Doing the charrette shuffle

Director of local bike club Chico VELO, board member of the Downtown Chico Business Association and neighbor of Enloe Medical Center

Chico charrette-heads are all atwitter over the likelihood of yet another dose of planning Valium to swallow. Let’s take a minute to review this tranquilizing drug’s history in Chico.

In 1987 noted architect Andres Duany brought his team here for a charrette on the Blakeley-Swartz Nance Canyon project, 6,600 acres roughly bordered by The Skyway, Neal Road and Hwy 99. We all trooped out to the Palms on Dayton Road to have our legitimate concerns ignored in favor of a palette of earth-tone pigments gathered on site.

Enloe ran an expansion “charrette” complete with colored dots and flip chart paper a year or two ago. When neighbors expressed dissatisfaction with the range of choices we were told we could leave.

My Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association compatriots asked me to soften my attitude and give the more-recent Enloe charrette a chance. I must say that I’m thrilled to see that design results from this exercise no longer places a heliport on the hospital roof. Maybe I’ve been wrong in my cynicism?

Despite press reports, there is far from unanimous, let alone majority approval of the outcome of this Enloe charrette. None of the noise and traffic issues referred to in the Draft Environmental Impact Report as “adverse impacts that are significant and unavoidable” were touched on. How can one feel optimistic about these predicted outcomes?

Charrettes are intended to give us hope and ideas about what is possible. I’ve been tracking a very similar hospital expansion project with uncanny parallels to our own, University Medical Center in Princeton, N.J, an in-town bed tower moving to a new site two to six miles from the town center. This will allow construction of a world-class facility and room for future expansion. UMC is working closely with municipal officials.

Enloe should work closely with the city of Chico on an alternate location that would allow construction of the same world class facility, with room to grow. I suggest the west side of Chico Municipal Airport. I know it’s zoned industrial, but that is what modern hospitals have become.

Helicopters could land on the ground, more than one at a time, and heavier aircraft could be accommodated. No ambulances weaving through increasingly congested city residential streets. Noise and vibration from the Central Plant? Not a problem.

If the DEIR comment period is not reopened, comments can still be received by Chico City Council members. Then we can look forward to the downtown parking structure charrette for a pretty colored Band-aid to place over the sucking chest wound we call transportation policy.