General plan close to completion

City Council and Planning Commission tweak the document

Brendan Vieg, a principal planner with the city of Chico, noted during the City Council’s latest meeting that those involved in the update of the general plan were headed into the home stretch on the document.

He was speaking Tuesday evening (Feb. 8) at the beginning of a joint session with the Planning Commission, during what turned into a more than four-hour meeting to further vet the current incarnation of the 2030 Chico General Plan.

“It’s been a long, intense and involved process,” Vieg said.

He wasn’t kidding. Indeed, the document has been in the works for three years. Last year, the efforts to craft it came out of a series of seven public joint council/commission meetings, including a marathon nine-hour workshop to review just three components of the document—its introduction and sustainability and land-use elements.

In October, the last time the panels took up the task, they were working to tie up loose ends. This time around, the current version was to have included those changes. It was the last chance for the panels to jointly discuss any remaining comments or questions on this long-range (20 years) policy framework for the growth and preservation of the city.

In a report on the subject, city staff noted that the input from previous meetings has been documented and incorporated in the plan. It went on to encourage the council not to rehash areas they previously had vetted.

But that’s exactly what ended up happening at times during the evening, which isn’t surprising considering the more than three-month gap between this meeting and the last one.

Councilman Andy Holcombe, for example, suggested bringing back the idea of instituting a 1-percent development fee to fund public art projects. His suggestion was quickly followed by comments from Councilman Mark Sorensen, who noted that any conversation on that subject should include those who spoke on it previously.

That prompted Mayor Ann Schwab to ask the panel to honor the decisions from past meetings.

The 372-page document is divided into 12 elements, plus an introduction. During the meeting, the council members shared their thoughts on the draft, and whether they thought it was lacking anything, as Schwab led them painstakingly through each section not once but twice.

In the middle of the process, 17 members of the public spoke to the panels about the document. The main recurring themes during the night included concerns about Chico’s groundwater supplies and air quality.

Multiple speakers asked for groundwater monitoring to ensure a sustainable supply. Several others asked the panel to strengthen the plan’s air protections by developing a mitigation policy equivalent to the pollution generated through development. Luke Anderson, the outspoken leader of the group Chico Healthy Air Alliance, noted that the construction activity in the current plan is expected to result in pollution exceeding healthful levels.

“You’re planning for dirty air,” he said.

By the end of the evening, a majority of the council agreed to include language in the plan designed to support a public groundwater-monitoring program, establishing a groundwater baseline, and acknowledging that groundwater is an indicator of sustainability. Councilman Scott Gruendl was behind that push for a change in the Parks, Public Facilities and Services element.

In the Open Space and Environment element, Gruendl and Holcombe successfully lobbied for strengthening the importance of an air-impact fee for developers. Gruendl’s idea is that the fee would provide revenues for enhancing public transit, the Climate Action Plan, and major-pollution reduction.

Next up in the process, the Planning Commission is scheduled to meet on March 10 to make its recommendation to the City Council on the certification of the general plan’s final environmental-impact report. The City Council will meet on April 12 to make the final determination on the EIR as well as consider adoption of the general plan.