EIR OK’d, but what good is it?

What was supposed to be the clearing of a major hurdle may instead prove to illustrate the barriers that still exist.

Steve O’Bryan emerged Aug. 7 as the lone trustee voice against approving the environmental-impact report on four south Chico sites under consideration for Canyon View High School.

The Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to certify the EIR, which includes the finding that the environmental impacts to the four sites can be mitigated, or that the community’s need for a high school overrides those impacts.

The district has been trying since 1998, when the school bond passed, to find a site it can afford and whose development isn’t hampered by endangered species such as Butte County meadowfoam.

O’Bryan, in voting against the resolution concerning the EIR, said, “I find it somewhat of a waste of time and I don’t want to be part of certifying an EIR on a parcel that I don’t think should be developed, really, in any manner.”

Trustee Scott Schofield said it would be “silly” not to include all the sites that were studied.

“It’s a fundamental difference of belief,” O’Bryan elaborated a few days after the meeting. O’Bryan, who served on the city’s General Plan Task Force back when the east side of Bruce Road was tabbed for preservation, said he’s been trying for some time to convince the rest of the board that state and federal agencies are never going to change their minds and allow property owned by the Schmidbauer family to be developed.

“It’s time to move [to a different site], even though you disagree with the logic behind it,” O’Bryan said in an interview. The obvious place, he said, would be Site 9, owned by Enloe Health System and holding all of the required permits and preserves. But nonprofit Enloe is holding onto that land to turn a profit in the interest of serving the community’s health needs.

O’Bryan suggested that strategy will come back to haunt the hospital. “I would like to think that Enloe as a community entity would see the benefit of a public high school,” he said. “They’re going to need a lot of friends for their expansion.” (He was referring to Enloe’s plan to build out into the neighborhood adjacent to its Esplanade location and the possibility that elected officials unsympathetic to that cause could perhaps drag the project out as long as 10 years.)

Also at the meeting, trustees seemed to back away from an idea communicated by Chico environmentalist John Merz: that a site could be carved out of the edge of Enloe’s property closer to Little Chico Creek.

“I would like the board to keep an open mind that there may be at least another alternative—maybe several—before you go purchase property or anything else,” Merz said. “Quite frankly, this project has a lot of shadows, and some of those need to go away.”

At Merz’ urging, the board did decide to attach a copy of the CUSD’s housing master plan to justify why, with enrollment on the decline, Chico still needs a third comprehensive high school.