EIR may open trustees’ minds on high school

The view of Canyon View High School is looking a little less hazy, as the comment period closes on an environmental-impact report examining four south Chico sites where the school could, at least in theory, be built.

So far the Chico Unified School District has steadfastly insisted on pursuing only the top-choice piece of land, owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka, despite the site’s well-documented environmental constraints. The result has been delay: The bond to build the school was passed way back in 1998.

Some observers have urged the district’s trustees to consider other, more expedient, site possibilities.

The EIR was released to the public last month, opening a comment period that closed June 28. Of the four sites examined, the one owned by Enloe Health System was deemed the least environmentally damaging parcel on which to build. But, as the nonprofit hospital reiterated in a prepared statement last week, it wants to hold on to its 220 acres to “maximize return” on its investment. The district could pursue the land through eminent-domain proceedings, but that could anger property rights advocates, and the CUSD would still have to pay fair-market value.

About a dozen community members showed up at a hearing June 26 at Little Chico Creek Elementary School, where Jay Pawlick of the Sacramento consulting firm Jones & Stokes was on hand to answer questions.

William Smith wanted to know if the campus would be open or closed. “It seems like a big part of the decision to me, being a neighbor.”

Tanya Henrich asked how much it would cost to mitigate the impact on Swainson’s hawks. “That’s a lot of extra money,” she said, when given an estimate of $50,000 to $75,000. Environmental constraints due to Butte County meadowfoam and vernal pools have held up federal permits to build on the Schmidbauer site near East 20th Street and Bruce Road.

Chico environmentalist John Merz suggested that the district set its sites on a piece of land northwest of the Enloe site but also owned by Enloe, closer to Marsh Junior High School and south of Chico Creek.

Later he elaborated, saying he doesn’t believe extending the EIR to include that land would send the entire process back to square one.

Now, Jones & Stokes will compile the comments and present a final document to the Board of Trustees to certify and use as a guide to decide which parcel is both approvable and affordable.

Superintendent Scott Brown said in an interview that his direction from the board is still "absolutely clear": continue to pursue the Schmidbauer site. As far as criticism for the delay, he said, "there’s going to be a lot of quarterbacking every Monday morning."