Esplanade House heads to appeal

The Chico City Council this week took up the thorny issues surrounding the expansion of the Esplanade House, the transitional-housing facility looking to move into a north Chico neighborhood where a number of vocal residents don’t welcome it.

Prior to the hearing, Vice Mayor Maureen Kirk cautioned against the cheering and jeering by the audience, lest she’d have to shut down the proceedings. And with the exception of one woman who yelled, “I’m a taxpayer,” toward the end of the meeting, things were fairly smooth.

The facility had received approval from the Planning Commission for the move to property off The Esplanade and Shasta Avenue. The project serves families facing homelessness due to any number of factors, including addictions, spousal abuse or stays in the county jail. A vast majority of the residents who would inhabit the 60-unit apartment complex are children under 9.

At the last council meeting the angry neighbors persuaded the council to grant an appeal to hear why the facility should be placed somewhere other than in their neighborhood. Councilmember Larry Wahl moved that other sites be considered, saying he knew of one in east Chico near Hank Marsh Jr. High.

The council, on a 4­2 vote (Mayor Dan Herbert is conflicted out because he lives in the neighborhood), granted the appeal but said before it took place it wanted city staff to inventory other potential sites. Project coordinator Greg Webb, a local developer and member of the board for the Community Action Agency, which administers the Esplanade House, told the council he had already looked for other sites and the one near Shasta was the one that would work best.

The council forged ahead anyway and this week looked at the other sites. The one Wahl and Councilmembers Steve Bertagna and Rick Keene pushed for to placate the angry neighbors is a 4.7-acre piece of land south of Humboldt Road wedged between Marsh Jr. High and Little Chico Creek Elementary. The city owns the property, having paid $450,000 for it in 1991 to build low- and moderate-income housing.

But there is no road extension yet in place to reach the property, and the estimated cost to put one there is $2.4 million. Wahl said using the already-purchased property would save the city the $390,000 in tax money it receives from the state and federal governments to aid in the building of low-income housing. That money, he then said, could be used to help build the road.

Speaking against the new site, Councilmember Coleen Jarvis predicted a loud and angry protest from the parents of school children should the Humboldt site be chosen for the Esplanade House. Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan said that by abandoning the Shasta site, the city would in effect lose property that could be used for low-income housing. The Community Housing Improvement Program has written a letter to the city indicating it is interested in building on the Humboldt site.

Developer Webb told the council that he was mystified as to why the CAA was never asked if it was interested in a different site.

“Why wouldn’t that be the first question you asked?” he wondered allowed.

He then went on to explain from a developer’s point of view why the Shasta site is superior to the Humboldt site for his project.

In the end the council took no action and instead promised it would hear the appeal at the Aug. 21 meeting and both sides would have their say. As it stands, the appeal will most likely die on a 3-3 vote, as the council is evenly divided at this point on the project.

However, Mayor Herbert said at the beginning of the meeting that he is looking to document that his property value would not be negatively affected by the project. That would allow him to vote on the project at the Aug. 21 appeal. Herbert has indicated he does not think the Esplanade House should move to the Shasta property.

Councilmember Jarvis noted that she, ironically, might have supplied Herbert with proof he needs when she provided him with a number of studies that show projects such as the Esplanade House do not adversely affect neighboring property values.