Esplanade House expansion crippled by City Council

A mystified Greg Webb sat and watched this week as the Chico City Council stepped through an odd political dance designed to appease hostile north Chico neighbors who don’t want to see a 60-unit transitional-housing facility built anywhere near them.

On a 4-2 vote, the council granted the neighbors’ request for an appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to approve the move and expansion of the Esplanade House from its current site on the corner of East Avenue and the The Esplanade to an old orchard off The Esplanade near Shasta Avenue.

The council also decided to bow to the neighbors’ demands and look for possible new locations for the project, which temporarily houses and helps families facing homelessness.

Webb, a developer who sits on the board of the Esplanade House, was the target of catcalls and thinly veiled threats—"Hey Greg, no cojones?"—throughout the evening as speakers demonized the project and predicted a visitation of rampant crime upon their homes should the transitional housing go in. The July 17 meeting took on the air of a hockey game, as raucous applause followed any condemnation of the expansion and a lighter but game smattering of support came on the heels of any praise.

In the end, the council, backed into a corner by accusations of not letting the opponents have voice, agreed to grant the appeal on a restricted basis—whether there was appropriate zoning, further examination of police reports for the existing facility and consideration of an alternate entrance and exit. But Councilmember Rick Keene insisted that before the appeal is heard the council consider alternate sites for the facility. Councilmember Larry Wahl said he had found some other spots, including 4.7 acres of city-owned property on El Monte and Humboldt near Hank Marsh school.

Supporters, including Councilmember Coleen Jarvis, fear that will greatly undermine the process and the progress made so far. And she wondered aloud if Keene had thought to include in his push whether Webb was willing to consider another site. Webb shook his head “no” from the audience.

At this point Webb was clearly confounded.

“I can’t understand why they are not dealing with this site, the one we have in hand,” he said. “Why don’t they just go ahead and deny it?”

Webb said he had received an extension on the time frame for purchasing the property but said he may be forced to “walk away from the escrow” if the project stalls.

Tom Tenorio, executive director for the Community Action Agency, which runs the Esplanade House, also was troubled by the council’s action. The state recently told the CAA that it had qualified for a $500,000 “forgivable loan.” One of the criteria for the loan, however, was that the project have “site control.” The council’s actions, Tenorio said, may well undermine that condition.

“Yes it could,” said Tenorio. “I’m also concerned about the effects it has on our ability to put together other financing for the project.”

The council voted 4-2 to look at alternative sites at its Aug. 7 meeting and to hear the appeal of the Planning Commission-approved site Aug. 21. Councilmembers Jarvis and Dan Nguyen-Tan voted against that schedule, which passed after Councilmember Maureen Kirk changed her vote at 11:30 p.m. and joined Keene, Wahl and Steve Bertagna in emphasizing a new location over approval of the current site.