Esplanade House survives appeal
Transitional-housing project moves forward with relocation, expansion in north Chico neighborhood
Once again the people who fear and loathe the arrival of the expanded Esplanade House into their neighborhood showed up in force to voice their disapproval at the Chico City Council meeting this week, on Tuesday. But their hopes of keeping out the transitional-housing project, which serves mostly single-parent families looking to avoid homelessness, were snuffed when the council voted not to grant an appeal of an earlier Planning Commission vote to allow the project.
A month ago, the council voted 5-1 to hear the appeal, but not before directing staff to look for alternate locations, a matter that was addressed at the council meeting two weeks ago. Project developer Greg Webb told the council then that the preferred site—in fact the only site that would work—was a 3.5-acre parcel at The Esplanade and Shasta Avenue.
This week the council heard the appeal, which was made by Karen Duncan, who charged that the property, which is half commercial, half medium density residential, is not properly zoned for such a project and that the Police Department had not given a complete report on the number of calls it’s had to make at the current site of the housing project on The Esplanade and East Avenue.
The council was not at full strength, as Mayor Dan Herbert had to remove himself from voting—he did so reluctantly—because he lives within 500 feet of the project and Councilmember Rick Keene was in transit from Sacramento when the meeting began.
(He arrived two hours later and said then that he didn’t feel comfortable voting on the controversial and politically charged matter because he had missed much of the public testimony.)
Home owner Melissa Nicholas, whose property abuts the proposed expansion site, wanted a second exit and entrance into the site and wanted to make sure her property retained its commercial zoning.
City staff and officials recited numbers and statistics and tried to explain to the concerned, fearful and in some cases downright seething opposition why the Planning Commission approval was appropriate. Police Chief Mike Efford explained that of the 38 police calls recorded as Esplanade House responses in the last year, only five were actual direct responses to calls from the Esplanade House. The rest, he said, were either routine visits or simply due to the fact that any traffic stop or other response in the immediate area gets posted with the Esplanade House address.
Staff also said that the city law allows the mixing of two different property zones to achieve the housing density the project calls for. Some opponents, including Councilmember Larry Wahl, questioned that, calling it “sleight of hand” and an obvious bow to the wishes of Webb.
Wearing stickers reading NAIMBY, which stood for Not All in My Back Yard, protesters insisted their neighborhood was already shouldering more than its share of low-income recovery programs that sit along The Esplanade.
Duncan reiterated her fears of increased crime with the arrival of the project and said it would be unfair to place the children of the Esplanade House near the “ex-convicts” who inhabit the other low-income-housing projects and programs in north Chico.
Nicholas said she wanted an 8-foot sound wall instead of the proposed 6-foot wall to keep Esplanade House residents “from leaping the wall and drowning in my pool and my getting sued.”
Vice Mayor Maureen Kirk asked at the beginning of the proceedings that testimony be given in a positive manner and that there be no outbursts from the audience. Her request for decorum was respected for about an hour before project opponent Stan Grunge started yelling that supporter Lynne Bussey was not staying on subject with her testimony.
At about the same time members of the audience, under the misconception that the council acts under the guidelines of Roberts’ Rules of Order, yelled, “Point of order, point of order,” to try to shut Bussey down.
At that point, Kirk banged the mayor’s gavel repeatedly and with so much force it was a wonder the wooden mallet didn’t splinter. Kirk told Grunge he would have to leave with any further outburst, and he decided to exit on his own volition, uttering a few angry words as he left the council chambers.
In the end the council voted 4-1 on a motion by Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan to deny the appeal and let the project move forward. Voting in favor were Nguyen-Tan, Coleen Jarvis, a strong supporter of the project, Kirk and Steve Bertagna, who in the past had expressed sympathy with the neighbors but this time praised the program and its leaders.
Wahl, who led the efforts to find an alternate location, voted against; Herbert, who left the building and failed to return to the meeting even after the issue was closed, was conflicted out; and Keene abstained.
Tom Tenorio, executive director of the Community Action Agency, which runs the Esplanade House, expressed gratitude that the project moved ahead but was apprehensive that gaining funding to keep the project on track could prove difficult with the council in the future.
“It’s not over yet," he said.