EIR: Enloe land best for high school

The word is in from experts on the environment: best not build a high school on any of the available parcels in Southeast Chico. Or, if you must, build it on property owned by Enloe Health System—never mind that Enloe doesn’t want to sell.

Those are the highlights of the draft environmental-impact report for Canyon View High School prepared by Jones & Stokes of Sacramento and released to the public April 29. Mike Weissenborn, facilities planner for the Chico Unified School District, said the clock has started on a 45-day public comment period, which will include a formal hearing.

He said the draft EIR is supposed to summarize all of the information about the proposed project’s impact, from traffic to concerns raised by public entities like the Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s not really intended to draw conclusions,” said Weissenborn, who added that nothing in the report came as a surprise.

The inch-thick document outlines the process and examines, in equal detail, four sites. The CUSD’s favorite, land owned by the Schmidbauer family on the east side of Bruce Road near the Skyway, didn’t get top billing, as the EIR tallied the presence of wetlands, special-status-species habitat and other impacts that must be mitigated if development is to proceed.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires that the EIR identify an “environmentally superior alternative,” and in this case that’s no project at all. So, they get a second choice, and that’s Site 9—land at the northwest corner of Bruce Road and East 20th Street that nonprofit Enloe is holding onto to sell for houses or something similarly lucrative.

Although building on the Enloe land would result in “the least removal of sensitive habitat,” the EIR’s preparers also proposed mitigation measures that should be taken if another site is chosen, such as federal wetlands permits, road widening and surveys on protected species.

Local environmentalists, pointing out the presence of endangered Butte County meadowfoam on the east side of Bruce Road, have long urged the CUSD to shift its interest to the Enloe site, even if it means declaring eminent domain and seizing the land in the best interest of the community.

Chico’s two traditional high schools are running well over capacity, and when voters passed a bond in 1998, they likely had no idea it would take more than four years just to buy land.

The CUSD Board of Trustees was to be presented with copies of the EIR at its May 1 meeting. After the final draft is complete, Weissenborn said, the board could certify that the document will form the basis for its decision on which property to pursue.