Esplanade House: final destination?

The transitional-housing program known as the Esplanade House, which sparked emotional testimony and testy emotions when it came before the Chico City Council in the summer of 2001 with plans to move and expand, will be back before that body when its administrators ask for money to seal the deal.

Neighbors within 500 feet of the project will be notified, and if this public hearing goes anything like the ones two years ago, get ready to grab a ringside seat.

The project proponents are asking the city for $1.8 million in low-income housing funds, part of the 20-percent set-aside required from the city’s redevelopment agency (RDA) revenues. The city currently has about $5 million in uncommitted funds for such projects, and its RDAs generate about $2 million per year.

When the council approved the expansion and move back in 2001, along with $400,000 in monetary assistance, project officials said they would need no more financial help from the city.

But the project, it turns out, does not qualify for a source of revenue it was counting on—federal tax credits.

In August 2001, following a series of loud and often uncivil meetings held at the Chico Area Recreation District offices before the Chico Planning Commission and finally in front of the Chico City Council, Esplanade House opponents, fearing the wrong element (families facing homelessness) moving in and draining their north-Chico neighborhoods of their property values, were finally silenced when the council voted not to appeal the Planning Commission vote to allow the project.

A month earlier, the council had listened to angry neighbors protesting the Esplanade House’s plans to move from its present location in an old motel on East and The Esplanade to a vacant field about a half-mile to the north.

Project manager and builder Greg Webb told the council this week he hopes to break ground on the 60-unit project this spring, adding that the $1.8 million “is the last piece of the puzzle.”

There is some speculation that, without the $1.8 million from the city, the project will fail in its efforts to qualify for other necessary funding.

Anticipating the upcoming fireworks, Councilmember Coleen Jarvis suggested the full council take on the issue rather than sending it first to its Finance Committee, as would be the normal procedure.

Last time it came before council, that body voted 4­1 to approve it, by denying the request for the appeal, which was filed by neighbor and real estate agent Karen Duncan.

Councilmember Dan Herbert, who opposed the project’s move, excused himself from the matter because he lived within 500 feet of the proposed site. He has since moved and can exercise his vote with a clean conscience. Former Councilmember Rick Keene, now a member of the state Assembly, didn’t vote because he missed most of the meeting that night.

Only Councilmember Larry Wahl voted for the appeal. Normally conservative Councilmember Steve Bertagna drove a stake through the heart of the Esplanade House opposition when he sided with his more liberal colleagues and denied the appeal.

This week he voiced his continued support of the project.

“There is great controversy that goes along with lots of things that have to do with low-and moderate-income housing,” Bertagna said. “I don’t care where it’s at. I support it.”

At that hot August meeting in 2001, Tom Tenorio, executive director of the Community Action Agency, which runs the Esplanade House, expressed gratitude that the project moved ahead but was apprehensive about gaining funding to keep the project on track.

"It’s not over yet," he accurately predicted. A date for the public hearing will be set at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting.