Keeping smog levels down

How Chico can grow without making the air dirtier

Remember the big wood-heater debate during Chico’s Walmart hearings in 2009? When City Councilman Scott Gruendl wanted the company to put up a million dollars toward changing out old, inefficient wood heaters for new ones as a way of mitigating the expansion project’s air-pollution impacts?

The idea went nowhere, but it did call attention to the shortage of ways to offset the increased smog that comes with growth.

It’s not a big issue right now because of inactivity in construction, but that will change eventually. And when projects again start passing through the system, neither the city nor the county Air Quality Management District will have a clear way to mitigate all of their air-pollution impacts.

Yes, the city can negotiate with the developers, and that can lead to including features such as bike lanes, transit access and walkable shopping to reduce air pollution. But that’s never sufficient to offset it completely, and as the Walmart experience shows, negotiating has a way of bogging down the process and leaving all parties dissatisfied. Better to have in place a development-fee schedule under which a developer agrees to pay a set amount of money into a fund to be used to purchase offsite emission reductions.

In December, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s smog-mitigation rule was legal under federal law. We encourage the city and the AQMD to begin working toward crafting such a rule for local use. It would be a win-win situation, giving developers the certainty of knowing the costs they face and residents the knowledge that growth doesn’t need to result in increased air pollution.