Magical creekside tour

Finance Committee, city staffers, citizens take snowy bus trip to Chico’s creekside greenways

WINTER WONDERLAND<br>On a snowy Monday morning, about 30 creekside tourists check out the banks of the Butte Creek diversion at the end of Potter Road.

On a snowy Monday morning, about 30 creekside tourists check out the banks of the Butte Creek diversion at the end of Potter Road.

Photo By Tom Angel

Parks plan:The General Plan designation for park impact fees to purchase five acres per 1,000 new residents breaks down into .58 acres for neighborhood parks, .73 acres for community parks and 3.69 acres of creekside greenway.

On a day when the weather in Chico attained near-blizzard-like conditions, at least by local standards, about 30 people—city staff members, three councilmembers and interested citizens—took a bus tour of the town’s creeks. Their purpose was to get some idea of what’s actually out there to be added to the city’s General Plan goal of securing some 180 acres of creekside greenway to add to its existing 217 acres.

The tour was the idea of Councilmember Rick Keene, who with fellow Councilmembers Dan Nguyen-Tan and Larry Wahl is a member of the council’s Finance Committee. Keene said he thought it a good idea to see first-hand the estimated 400 acres of creekside land potentially available for acquisition, rather than rely on maps. Keene also had suspicions that the city’s goal of gaining creekside greenway for linear parks, bike paths and open space was too ambitious.

The city currently designates Mud Creek/Sycamore Creek, Lindo Channel, Big Chico Creek, Little Chico Creek, Dead Horse Slough, the Little Chico Creek/Butte Creek Diversion, Comanche Creek, the abandoned railroad bed that runs south and parallel to Comanche Creek and Butte Creek as areas for potential creekside greenway acquisition.

Keene has said he doubts the need for the city to purchase some of the acreage, arguing it will never be developed anyway. And, perhaps more important, he wonders why developers should have to pay into a fund to pay for it.

City funding for such acquisitions comes from developer park facility impact fees, which are based on the General Plan’s call for five acres of neighborhood and community parks and greenways for every 1,000 new residents who come because of new development. Those fees for a single-family residence amount to $1,429 per unit. Based on current land cost estimates, those fees fall well short of what it will cost to secure the park and greenways land. The General Plan, adopted in 1994, posits a cost of $63,000 per acre of greenway property, but current estimates by a local appraiser put it at $105,000 per acre.

City staff members have set the fees at $2,528 per single-family residence. Nguyen-Tan says he suspects Keene, acting on behalf of local developers, really wants to drastically cut the number of acres the city will eventfully purchase.

“It appears that the [Building Industry Association’s] position is to only maintain Lindo Channel, Big Chico Creek and Little Chico Creek as creekside greenway areas,” he said.

The tour included 15 spots, from Sycamore and Mud creeks to the north, Lindo Channel at Manzanita Bridge to the east, south to Dead Horse Slough, then east again up old Humboldt Road along Little Chico Creek, where, as we rose into the foothills, huge, wet snowflakes started filling the air and laying a white cover over the greenways visited.

The tour then checked out the Butte Creek flood diversion channels along Potter Road and near the Skyway before heading over to see Comanche Creek and the railroad right-of-way just north of where Otterson Drive ends. This area, of course, was the subject of last year’s Measure A, which if approved would have built a bridge over the creek connecting South Park Drive and Otterson for a more convenient entrance into the Hegan Lane Industrial Park.

The $2.9 million price tag for the project would have also meant the purchase of the greenway along Comanche Creek. But when the project was defeated, the four councilmembers who favored it refused even to discuss going ahead with the purchase of the greenway.

“Anyone who took the tour on Monday, or who has spent time envisioning protected land with appropriate public access, will surely tell you that much of vacant land along designated creeks should be preserved,” said Nguyen-Tan. “There is so much opportunity for connected bike and pedestrian paths along our creeks, in addition to all the other worthy environmental reasons to have appropriate setbacks between creeks and development.”

The Finance Committee will take the matter up again in a February or March meeting before handing it off to the full council.