Esplanade House, supporters targeted

In what could possibly be viewed as a very low-grade terrorist plot, someone is publishing misinformation aimed at the Esplanade House transitional-housing program and the 11 city representatives who voted last summer to approve its controversial move and expansion into a north Chico neighborhood.

In late October a pamphlet announcing the existence of the “Good Neighbors Network” was printed and sent to the homes of the seven planning commissioners and four city councilmembers who voted to approve the project. The pamphlet says that “Several compassionate individuals in Chico provide rooms in their homes, food and, in some instances, financial help for out-of-work and homeless folks.”

The pamphlet includes the addresses and a map showing where these allegedly generous folks live and encourages needy people to visit them. “Come by any residence 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. Tuesday-Saturday,” it says.

Turns out the addresses listed are for those 11 city officials who voted to support the Esplanade House’s expansion. The Good Neighbors Network apparently exists only in the phony pamphlet.

Then, about a week ago, a letter questioning the Esplanade House’s legitimacy as a tax-exempt organization surfaced. The letter purportedly was sent by the director of the “Community Charities Trust information center” of Chico. It’s not signed, and research could locate no proof that the Community Charities Trust exists. Esplanade House Coordinator Lynne Bussey says the letter was received by at least two businesses that she is aware of, Rolls Anderson & Rolls Civil Engineers and the Butte Community Bank.

The Esplanade House program is currently housed in an old motel near the corner of The Esplanade and East Avenue. Its supporters say more room is needed to help the many families in Butte County facing possible homelessness. The new location is a lot off The Esplanade and Shasta Avenue.

The unanimous approval of the expansion plan by the Planning Commission and subsequent denial in August by four councilmembers of an appeal came over considerable and emotional protest from neighbors, who feared the presence of the Esplanade House would lead to declining property values, increased crime and undesirables moving in.

Karen Duncan, a real estate agent and one of two people who filed the appeal with the council, said she has not heard of either the pamphlet or the letter but laughed and joked that she “may have to take [the Good Neighbor Network] up on its offer, considering the current state of the real estate market.”

Councilmember Steve Bertagna, who was seen as the swing vote to deny the neighbors’ appeal, admitted the pamphlet advertising his home as a soup kitchen, crash pad and source of financial aid “is a bit scary.”

“The reality is there are people out there who will say and do anything to prove their point,” he said. “What’s scary is that someone lies awake at night and thinks these things up.”

Bussey said she had some concerns that the letter from the Community Charities Trust could fool some people and possibly affect donations to the Esplanade House. She said copies of the letter and the pamphlet have been forwarded to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

DA Mike Ramsey said the matter had not come across his desk and indicated he very much doubted any laws had been broken.