Museum lacks a traffic plan

Use of Vets Hall will add to neighborhood’s woes

In 1927, when the doors to the Veterans Memorial Hall first opened, Chico had a population of 8,650. A streetcar that serviced The Esplanade provided transportation for citizens. Walking, horses, buggies and an occasional automobile were the common forms of transport.

The Chico metropolitan area (Butte County) is now placed as the 14th largest in the state, with a population of 220,000 as of 2010. Most families today have a car for every driver, and wherever they go they create traffic and require parking.

The Museum of Northern California Art (monCA), a growing museum with a wonderful vision, hopes to locate at the Veterans Memorial Hall. Its intention is to become a regional museum, drawing visitors from outside our area as a tourist destination.

The vision monCA describes in its business plan is in contradiction with the county staff planning report. This document states that the museum’s use of the facility will bring only “low impacts” to the immediate neighborhood.

This neighborhood has serious issues with parking, traffic circulation and safety, as documented in the Avenues Neighborhood Improvement Plan. Considerable fundraising, events, and the café will necessitate a steady flow of visitors. (This is to support a renovation costing $4.5 million, plus fees up to 25 percent of construction costs, plus $155,000 in annual operating costs.)

This historic building sits on one of Chico’s busiest thoroughfares, with no easy access. To reach the building while traveling south on The Esplanade, a vehicle must turn left either onto East Second Avenue, three blocks north of the building, or East Frances Willard Avenue, three blocks south. The vehicle must then pass through a historic R-1 residential neighborhood. It is obvious that the traffic impact to this residential and historic neighborhood will be considerable.

The county should not sign a contract for an occupant for this 18,000-square-foot building with nine parking spaces. The city should resolve the traffic-circulation and parking problems or insist on a use that will not exacerbate the neighborhood’s significant issues with traffic. The poor planning of the past that left this historic building without off-street parking is a warning not to perpetuate bad planning.

When the traffic circulation issues and the infrastructure improvements to the streets, sidewalks and crosswalks are completed, then perhaps the county could consider a tenant for the building.