Council gives massive Oak Valley subdivision thumbs-up, but with major alterations
The discussion and resulting action by the Chico City Council to the 340-acre, 1,300-unit Oak Valley subdivision slated to be built into the foothills along Highway 32 was so dense and complex no fewer than seven attorneys weighed in.
And in the end nobody was certain as to the legality of the council’s decision to greatly alter, for environmental reasons, Tom Fogarty’s huge subdivision that has been in the planning stages for the past 12 years. As it now stands, there will be no houses built on the eastern-most sections of the property, which sits at an elevation of about 600 feet.
Fogarty’s attorney Doug Aikens suggested denying his client the right to build there may constitute an illegal taking and a lawsuit may be pending.
When asked for his take on the matter by a concerned, and upset, Councilmember Larry Wahl, City Attorney Dave Frank shrugged and noted anyone can sue anyone else for any reason.
“I can’t predict if litigation might result,” Frank said. “or what it might look like. I prefer not to speculate.”
Councilmember Steve Bertagna said he is—and his fellow councilmembers should be—certain that the council’s actions were a violation of state law.
“The only reason we might not see a lawsuit,” he suggested, “is out of the kindness of [Fogarty’s] heart. He may be worn out.”
Last May 17 the council denied two appeals of the project that will sit in part on the recently remediated Humboldt Burn Dump near the intersection of Humboldt and Bruce roads in southeast Chico. But in the denial of the appeals, which objected to, among other things, the scope of the project and its reach into the eastern foothills, the council voted to remove 80 of the proposed 160 single-family houses slated for construction in the eastern-most section of the project, called Lot Q.
And everybody, with the possible exception of those who filed the appeals, seemed happy with the council’s motion of intent to move ahead with the project.
The matter was set to come back for a final approval via the consent agenda—matters deemed uncontroversial and lumped together for an expected mass vote of approval. But the appellants, neighbors of the project and some environmentalists concerned about the project’s sprawl into the oak woodlands of the ridge, fired off a letter on June 3 to the council hinting that they may take legal action if the project were approved as is.
Three days later Fogarty’s attorney Aikens asked the council for a continuation of the matter “for a short interval, presumably 2-4 weeks.”
On Sept. 13 the matter came back to the council, which in the meantime received more information, including a letter from the state historical society concerning the impacts the project might have on the old Humboldt Wagon Road, a matter that has been vigorously attended by Francis Farley, one of the project appellants.
At that meeting two weeks ago, Councilmember Andy Holcombe pulled the issue from the consent agenda and, with a 4-3 vote, got the council to reopen the matter for pubic debate on one issue—whether or not to drain the upper part of the project of the remaining 80 single-family houses on Lot Q and mix them in with other houses to create a higher density of houses on the lower elevations.
At one point an obviously agitated Wahl asked why Holcombe simply did not require a “30-story condominium and have everybody jammed in there!”
Three members of the public who spoke against the project were attorneys—Susan Minasian, who has represented the neighbors, environmental attorney Paul Persons, who said the council action did not constitute an illegal taking because the project’s final environmental-impact report had yet to be adopted and Jon Luvaas, a land-use attorney and the only member of the Planning Commission to vote against the project when it came before that agency.
In the end Holcombe was joined by Mayor Scott Gruendl and Councilmembers Maureen Kirk and Ann Schwab in voting to move the 80 houses down from the hills.
Aikens and local building representative Jim Mann said they had no comment after the matter was closed, though there was some huddled discussion with City Attorney Frank.
Fogarty didn’t attend the meeting.