Don’t sell the ranch

Hilary Locke has lived in Chico since 1987 and been involved with Bidwell Ranch since 1996.

“It’s going to be a long campaign.” So wrote Steve Evans, the then-general manager of the Butte Environmental Council, way back in 1988, during the heat of the “No Way San Jose” campaign. Fifteen years later, the battle to protect Upper Park continues, and the stakes seem much higher.

The fight to stop development from encroaching on Bidwell Park has great significance in Chico city politics and merits a quick history lesson. The land in question is a 750-acre parcel off Wildwood Avenue at the entrance to Upper Park. In 1986, the Crocker Development Company purchased the land and proposed a 4,500-unit development, known as Rancho Arroyo. The City Council approved the project and thus set in motion a furious reaction from Chico conservationists. This reaction took the form of a referendum, which the Sacramento-based developers vowed to defeat by spending “whatever it takes.”

This was a contest that money couldn’t buy, however. Crocker out-spent its opposition 10 to one but lost anyway. On June 7, 1988, 58 percent of Chico voters cast their ballots against the project. However, despite the project opponents’ hard work, they knew it was only a matter of time before the developers would rise again.

Sure enough, in 1994 a 1,500 unit project known as Bidwell Ranch was proposed. Again, concerned Chico citizens sprang into action, filling the chambers at City Council meetings and raising thousands of dollars. This council recognized that public will would continue to prevent the land from development. Right before Christmas 1997 the council voted to purchase the property.

Many now believe this land is part of the park. While million-dollar mansions are invading Upper Park from the south, many assume that the park’s entrance has been spared. Actually this land lies in limbo, waiting for the City Council to make a final decision.

Now, a proposal has come forward that the land should be sold to help develop new city parks. Asking Chico to choose between wide-open wilderness and playgrounds and soccer fields is disingenuous, and once again a loud protest will be heard.

Some things don’t change much in 15 years. The issues raised will be the same. Proponents of development will throw out terms like “affordable housing,” “no-growth extremists” and “obstructionists.” The cost of providing infrastructure will be the foremost argument against the development, and likely what will ultimately save it. But Chicoans, both old and new, know what we are fighting for—Bidwell Park, our city’s heart and soul.

If you wish to be part of the ongoing campaign to help preserve our park, call Betty Volker at 345-7205 or Hilary Locke at 893-5624.