Enloe, neighbors square off

“Slow down” and “hurry up” were the conflicting messages shot at the city of Chico’s Planning Commission at a Feb. 6 public hearing that drew so many people that a closed-circuit television was set up in a nearby meeting room to handle the overflow.

The commission was being asked to recommend that the City Council certify an environmental impact report and take other action that would pave the way for the controversial expansion of Enloe Medical Center on The Esplanade.

After five hours of comments, the commission adjourned to Feb. 8, after the News & Review’s press time.

The nonprofit hospital hopes to expand in several phases, the first beginning with the construction of a four-level parking structure on Magnolia Avenue in the residential area. The centerpiece of the project is adding a five-story tower to the hospital, which was originally constructed in 1937.

In November 2001, Enloe revealed its 25-year expansion plans to the public. The neighbors felt they were being told rather than asked, and opposition to the project began to build. In June 2005, Enloe backtracked and held a charette—a citizen-guided planning workshop—which yielded a new design more in keeping with the architecture and scale of the historic neighborhood. Enloe tweaked that to come up with a revised proposal.

At the public hearing, though the price tag for the project has for months been quoted at $85 million, several pro-expansion speakers said it’s now $110 million—an increase they blamed on delays due to neighbors trying to bog down the process.

Dr. Li Poa said if he’d known of community opposition to an expansion when he was recruited as a cardiac surgeon four years ago, it would have “severely impacted” his decision to come to Chico. “I am surprised that less than half a percent of a community can essentially hold the other 99 and one-half percent from the availability of improved health care,” he said.

“We’re responsible for all of the delays and all of the whining?” countered Avenues resident Barbara Robertson. “I don’t think so. We don’t know from one month to the next what’s being planned.”

Kristine Mazzei spoke on behalf of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association (CANA), which in recent months has been working closely with Enloe to try to reach a compromise on some of the neighbors’ concerns.

Mazzei laid out several conditions for neighborhood support of the project, which included: immediately improving streets, creating a traffic plan, adding “liner buildings” where the parking structure faces houses, relocating helicopter operations to the Chico Municipal Airport and including CANA on decision-making boards. CANA, like Enloe, prefers the rectilinear realignment of Magnolia because it better mimics the grid-like pattern of the historic streets there.

Marty Marshall, director of emergency services for the hospital, said moving helicopter operations to the airport would limit career options for employees and hurt the quality of care while failing to satisfy neighbors. “The good will and perceived relief [of noise concerns] will be short-lived and ultimately unappreciated,” he said.

Regardless of the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the matter will proceed to the City Council.