Is Chico seeing the forest for the trees?

For the general plan, city planners are considering development on federal parkland. Huh?

Next meeting
The city of Chico will hold the second Land Use Alternatives session July 15. Check for more information.

We take no pleasure in criticizing the update of Chico’s general plan. We know all the effort and expertise city planners and PMC consultants have put into the process. Yet, when energy seems misplaced or a notion misguided, we can’t help but comment.

Take the Land Use Alternatives component, introduced at a public meeting June 10. A number of attendees—Vice Mayor Ann Schwab included—quickly noticed that two of the three proposals include future development of county land protected by the Greenline. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility, but it’ll take an intense political battle to accomplish.

Turns out the remaining proposal has a hot spot, too. Alternative C, which requires the least land and most density, identifies 148 acres of the “Mendocino National Forest Special Planning Area” as a possible location for medium- to high-density residential, commercial and industrial development. Oh, there’s parkland planned, too, which only makes sense because, as we couldn’t help but notice, it’s a national forest.

The property isn’t available (see Downstroke), and no Mendocino National Forest land has ever been outright sold. So, unless the government makes an unprecedented move, Alternative C really consists of only the North Chico Specific Plan (477 acres) and Barber Yard (156), plus whatever infill is available, to accommodate 50,000 new Chicoans by 2050.

Growth assumptions also merit scrutiny, but we’ll save that for another time.

Planning Director Steve Peterson stresses that the land-use proposals are strictly conceptual at this point and will be refined by public input. Plus, said PMC’s Pam Johns, in her experience, city leaders usually pick and choose from multiple plans, so these aren’t all-or-nothing alternatives.

In any event, this oddity with Alternative C makes it clear that, in order to meet the city’s growth needs, the new general plan is going to have to designate some areas outside the Greenline—Bell-Muir comes immediately to mind—for future development. And there are close-in swatches of land on the city’s east side (identified in Alternatives A and B) that are suitable for creating self-contained, mixed-use neighborhoods similar to the approved Meriam Park.

We’re all for varying density and limiting sprawl; we also believe in master-planned neighborhoods with commercial centers, school sites and parks. If residents and councilmembers want a general plan that truly meets the city’s needs, they should remain open to both options.