Feds: Land is cool for school

The land under consideration for Chico’s new high school has been given the go-ahead by federal agencies. If only the Chico Unified School District had an owner willing to sell.

On Feb. 19, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notified the CUSD of its “biological opinion” that the school can be built without irreparably damaging endangered species. The decision opens the door for the issuance of a wetlands fill permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The land in question is 52 acres of a 98-acre parcel on the west side of Bruce Road near The Skyway.

“This is just pure progress,” said Mike Weissenborn, facilities manager for the CUSD.

Essentially, he said, the document means the agencies have no problem with a school being built on the land, as long as the CUSD takes measures including controlling water runoff and buying an acre’s worth of meadowfoam habitat somewhere else—at an estimated price of $70,000—and preserving it. “We will not jeopardize the longevity of the Butte County meadowfoam,” Weissenborn said, and the endangered plants that are on the site “are not as viable a population as others that are of more concern to them.” Vernal-pool crustaceans also make their home on the south Chico land.

But there’s still a huge sticking point. The land is owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka, which has repeatedly indicated it wants to sell only part of its east-of-Bruce parcel—and then only if it can get a large housing development OK’d at the same time. “Last we heard they were an unwilling seller, but we hadn’t been in a position to offer them a specific amount of money,” Weissenborn said.

The 1998 bond measure provided for Canyon View High School, but delays have already eaten away nearly $5 million in buying power.

Some school leaders still have their eye on a prime piece of property farther down the road, acreage owned by Enloe Health System, which already holds the required environmental clearances.

“I’d still like to see it built on the Enloe property,” said Trustee Steve O’Bryan. “I would think that Enloe would want to sell us the property at some point. They don’t have any plans for it other than to sell it for a lot of money.”

The CUSD has gradually become less wary of discussing the possibility of eminent domain—claiming a greater need for a piece of property than that of the current owner.

But that’s looking too far ahead. The next step is for the CUSD Board of Trustees to hear the appraised values of each of the properties it’s investigating and determine which should be pursued.