Lindo legislation withdrawn

Just days before it was to be heard in committee, a bill that would authorize the Chico City Council to sell city parkland was rescinded by its author, Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas. Oller’s office said an unexpected flood of protest was behind the senator’s decision.

At first Oller thought the bill would sail on through with little or no opposition, said press secretary Patrick Bergin, “However, over the past few weeks, we started to get rumblings from members of the Local Government Committee that the bill may have more opposition than we previously thought,” he added. “In fact, the Legislative Consultant in our office handling the measure has received nearly 70 letters of opposition and countless telephone calls.”

Oller was asked to author such a bill by members of the Chico City Council looking for a way to solve the problem of encroachments onto public land along the Lindo Channel. Over the years at least 35 property owners living next to the channel have moved onto and claimed property land—either purposefully or unknowingly—by extending landscaping and fencing or erecting buildings.

In recent years the city, prompted by private citizen Michael Jones, agreed to act to remove the encroachments. In most of the cases the city was successful. But in others, the property owners protested that removal of the encroachments constituted an undue financial hardship. The City Council, which has no authority to sell parkland, was able to work out a land swap to solve the problem in a few of those cases.

But in others, where a land swap was not an option, the city was stuck if the landowner did not want to cooperate. In those situations, if the Parks and Playground Commission had ordered the property owner to remove the encroachment, the property owner appealed to the City Council, which on three occasions upheld the appeals on a split vote. (See Briefly.)

Those cases, along with six others not yet resolved, are counting on the passage of a state law similar to Oller’s, which will allow the council to sell parkland to solve the problem. However, not everybody is thrilled with the idea of granting the council that authority. Critics say such a proposal goes against the wishes of Chico matriarch Annie Bidwell, who deeded the property to the state in 1908 with the understanding it would remain as parkland in perpetuity.

“There is no finesse in the bill,” said John Merz, director of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust. “It’s taking a sledgehammer to protection that has been in place for years to keep it as parklands.

Councilmember Steve Bertagna, who is in favor of the legislation, said he was disappointed it was not moving forward.

“No one on council is interested in giving parkland away,” he said. “The only area we are talking about is Lindo Channel. The question begs to be asked, what authority does the city have—what good is it to hold title to the property if there is no way to improve it?”

He said the creek bed in Lindo Channel has moved since Bidwell deeded the land, and as such it is difficult to honor her decree that the property remain parkland.

Lindo Channel, also known as Sandy Gulch, is used for flood control purposes in the winter. In fact, Oller’s bill was authored as “an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety” so that the city could “protect the people and property within the city of Chico and downstream from that city from the dangers and ravages of floodwater…”

The flaw there is that Lindo Channel, which handles flood runoff from Big Chico Creek, can spill its overflow into Mud and Sycamore creeks and therefore has not flooded since Bidwell deeded it as parkland.

Oller, said press secretary Bergin, wants to work on the bill for next year “and invite soon-to-be Sen. Sam Aanestad to join the discussion at that time.”

Aanestad, who is now an assemblyman, is the Republican candidate for the 4th District Senate seat in November. But more likely, Rick Keene will become the lead legislator for such a bill should he win the 3rd District Assembly seat in the fall.