Let’s go structure-less

Karl Ory is a consultant for affordable housing and a former mayor of Chico.

We’re going to have a “town-hall” meeting about our downtown, kicking-off tonight, March 23rd, at Chico Junior High School at 6:30 p.m., and going-on for days thereafter. We’re all invited. They call it a planning charrette, but city organizers plan to limit the talk to “access” issues like parking and transportation. That’s great, but it’s the tail chasing the dog.

What we need is a conversation about the heart of our great community. Maybe we can’t bring back the train or the elms, but we can bury the idea of a 700-car $20 million garage and go structure-less:

Instead, lets try this:

• Restripe existing parking lots and add diagonal parking on side streets. We could add hundreds of parking spaces.

• Encourage downtown employees not to park in the core area and we could add hundreds more.

• Form a downtown planning commission. The airport has a commission for advising the council; downtown deserves as much.

• Encourage owner-occupied housing around downtown, benefiting downtown and stabilizing south campus.

Here are good reasons why:

• Structures are capital intensive and expensive. Each space we avoid needing —by restriping, transit, walking an extra block—saves us at least $25,000.

• The 2nd and Wall Street lot is the wrong location for any structure, anytime. Let me count the ways: It’s the site of the Saturday farmer’s market, a gateway location to downtown, and a parking structure would cause traffic snarls.

• To build the structure, dozens of steel pillars would need to be pounded through the buried remains of a primary Mechoopda village site. Instead, why not make the surface the permanent, year-round home of the Saturday farmer’s market.

• The true compulsion to add 700 spaces is a scheme to “densify” the downtown. We will sell or lease more spaces than we gain.

• Most students live within walking and biking distance to campus and downtown. We should keep it that way by not encouraging the short drive with new structures.

• A final reason: 6,100 voters signed a referendum opposing fees to pay for the structure.