Park or parking lot?

Neighbors accuse Enloe of reneging on agreement

John Whitehead, president of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Assocation, stands near the small children’s playground outside of Enloe Medical Center.

John Whitehead, president of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Assocation, stands near the small children’s playground outside of Enloe Medical Center.


Ten years ago, when the Chico City Council approved a development agreement for Enloe Medical Center’s $110 million expansion project, it was on condition that by the time the expansion was complete, Enloe would mitigate some of its impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood.

Specifically, the hospital agreed to retrofit as many as 35 nearby houses to lessen noise from emergency helicopters. It also pledged to repair streets damaged during construction, to keep Magnolia Avenue as a through street, and to construct a park immediately west of the new addition to serve as a buffer between the hospital and the neighborhood.

The results so far, according to members of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association: Only one house has been retrofitted; only the streets nearest the hospital have been repaired; and only a tiny children’s playground has been built where the park was supposed to be. Magnolia has remained a through street, but awkwardly so because it is no longer clearly linked to the neighborhood grid.

Worst of all, in the neighbors’ minds, the hospital came to CANA in June with new plans to reduce the size of the park to make room for more parking—even though anywhere from 100 to 150 of the 700 spaces in its four-story parking garage are usually empty, they say.

To the neighbors, this is yet another example of the hospital’s willingness to ride roughshod over them as it creeps ever outward. As CANA’s president, John Whitehead, put it, “They want what they’ve decided they want, and that’s it.”

Bill Seguine is the property development and facilities manager at Enloe. As such, he’s in charge of designing and building the park, as well as negotiating with the neighbors.

On July 20, he attended a CANA board meeting held at the Enloe Conference Center. The main topic was the park. Seguine had been invited to attend, he said, and was there primarily to take notes and answer questions.

It turned out there were a lot of questions, beginning with this one: “Why are we now, at the whim of another CEO, renegotiating this plan?” The reference was to current CEO Mike Wiltermood, who according to Seguine is pushing for more parking, and former CEO Dan Neumeister, who some 15 years ago abandoned long-held plans to build a new hospital on Bruce Road and instead opted to expand the existing facility in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

There was grumbling among the board members. Someone said the word “lawsuit.”

Seguine informed the group that Enloe had “already complied with every aspect of the development agreement.” The agreement calls for a park, he said, but nowhere does it “speak to the size of the park.” In fact, he added, the small children’s playground is enough to qualify as a park.

Members of CANA pointed out that a map of the Enloe campus attached to the development agreement showed the word “park” square in the middle of the block between Fifth and Sixth and Arcadian and Magnolia avenues

Seguine stated that Enloe had no desire to stick closely to the letter of the law and was committed to the “spirit” of the law.

Part of the problem is that the situation on the ground has changed—and is still changing. When the development agreement was signed, there were four Enloe-owned buildings on the block as well as one old house whose owner refused to sell.

Since then, one of the Enloe buildings has been demolished. Of the three remaining, two are in use. They are the Arcadian House at Fifth and Arcadian, which is headquarters for Butte County EMS, and the Sierra House at Sixth and Arcadian, where the Enloe Foundation and Enloe’s Marketing and Communications department are located.

The third building, an older yellow house next door to the Sierra House, is also set to be demolished. The most recent plans envision the land freed up by the demolitions being used for the park.

The homeowner who refused to sell has since died, and Enloe has purchased the house from the heirs and plans to demolish it, as well. The hospital wants to use the space for additional parking, bringing the total number of parking spaces on the site to approximately 72.

If the hospital prevails, the north half of the block will be devoted to the park and the south half to parking. The neighbors don’t think that meets the goal of creating a buffer between the hospital and the neighborhood. They charge that the parking lot would increase vehicle noise and light pollution in a historic neighborhood that is already experiencing decreasing property values and increasing transition from owner-occupied homes to college rentals, thanks to Enloe’s incursions.

There’s a reason for those incursions, of course. Enloe serves a seven-county area whose population is steadily and inevitably growing. If it’s pushing outward, it’s because hospital administrators know there’s high demand for life-saving health care.

The parking lot is intended, Seguine said, to serve people coming to the nearby Emergency Department. The parking structure is too far away, he said.

Not so, said the CANA folks. A person needing emergency care can be dropped off at the ER while the car is being parked in the parking structure. Or Enloe can restore the valet service it used during construction.

Neighbors also suggested that parking meters be installed around the hospital to encourage people, especially employees, to use the parking structure. They also noted a complete lack of signage telling people where parking is available.

Whitehead and other CANA board members are meeting with City Manager Mark Orme and Community Services Director Mark Wolfe on Friday, July 29, to discuss the many issues the association has raised.

Editor’s note:

Reporter Robert Speer made multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact Bill Seguine, the point man for Enloe’s expansion project, to get a response to Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association’s criticisms. After press time, Enloe spokeswoman Christina Chavira provided the following responses to CANA’s charges:

Re: CANA’s complaint that only one house has been retrofitted for noise reduction, Chavira points out that many residents chose the option of taking cash and doing the retrofitting themselves.

Re: the allegation that Enloe hasn’t repaired some neighborhood streets damaged during construction, Chavira responded that the hospital had contributed $500,000 to street repair, more than required by the agreement.

Re: the “awkward” shape of Magnolia Street. Enloe states that this is what neighbors have said they wanted. Re: valet parking service. Enloe continues to offer it (except on weekends).