Otterson’s five key issues

A retired budget administrator and observer of local politics

The proposed Otterson Drive Extension is a “mystery project.” Prior to June of last year, it was a low-priority “future project” with a price tag of $1.8 million. On July 5, 2000, a majority of the Chico City Council voted to make Otterson a top-priority, fully funded $2.9 million project. Explanations were shrouded in slogans, generalities and vague references to “traffic gridlock” and “new money” that morphed into “win-win,” “parks and jobs,” and “no new taxes.”

I am not an environmentalist, anti-growth, or a NIMBY; I am a fiscal conservative. In an effort to see through the smoke and mirrors, I have researched the traffic studies and city budgets, and I talked with councilmembers and met with representatives of the Hegan Lane Business Park. I have found nothing that could justify spending $2.9 million in public funds to construct a landscaped entrance to a private business park.

Looking past the slogans and generalities, five issues seem to be clear:

1. Traffic. Advocates for the Otterson project have predicted gridlock. Yet the city’s environmental-impact report states, “Construction of the project is not necessary from a traffic operations perspective.”

2. & 3. Funding Sources and Project Priorities. Three funding sources have been identified: street and park development impact fees and redevelopment funds. The business park is not contributing funds directly. Future city projects needing either park or street funds, or both, total $128 million. Question: Should a landscaped entrance to a private business park take priority over other city projects? Specifically, how can we justify spending $900,000 for the Otterson “park/right-of-way” when the DeGarmo Community Park, a top CARD priority, has been eliminated from the five-year plan?

Expenditures of redevelopment funds are projected at $1.4 million. State law restricts the use of these funds to eliminate blight in the redevelopment area. Where is the blight, and why are redevelopment funds being used when the “right-of-way” property is not in the redevelopment area? A better (and legal) use of the $1.4 million would be to fix truly blighted projects in the city.

4. Jobs. There are currently 1,270 employees in the business park. Whether or not the business park has a $2.9 million landscaped entrance, an additional 800 employees are projected in five years, with another 800 projected in 10 years. In fact, a representative of the business park has stated the park will sell out regardless.

5. Alternate Projects. The original Otterson extension planned to use Meyers Street and cost $1.8 million. The second alternative, erroneously called “no project,” would upgrade intersections at East Park, Midway and Hegan Lane and would cost $1.6 million. A third alternative would return the Otterson extension to its original five-year-plus priority pending realistic city funding and a city/business park financial partnership. This project could be kept alive if the business park purchases the right-of-way property now, with a possible city loan secured for that purpose.

For now, however, the only feasible alternative is a No vote on Proposition A.