Residents on East Avenue worried about losing parking
For this year’s Super Bowl, Suzanne Lawry-Hall welcomed friends and family members into her quaint three-bedroom home on East Avenue, across the street from the East Avenue Church near Floral Avenue. The family of four—Suzanne and her husband, Ryan Hall, plus baby Rosalie and 5-year-old daughter Charlie—barbecued and placed their bets on which team would be the victor. It was a Sunday filled with good company, good eats and lasting memories.
The house is Suzanne and Ryan’s first as a married couple. They have hosted barbecues and birthday parties in their spacious backyard and have welcomed people for Friendsgiving each November since they moved in two years ago. Grandpa Randy Hall often drives his truck over to help with home improvement projects, and Grandma Melissa Hall often comes by during the workday to watch Rosalie.
Though the couple love living there, lately they have been worried about safety on their street. Chico police have been, too. They have noticed a higher frequency of traffic collisions along that stretch of East Avenue, from Cohasset Road to Mariposa Avenue. Recent statistics show that from 2012 to 2017 there were 46 collisions within that section of the major roadway, 24 of which included injury.
The solution in these cases, typically, is to widen the roadway, said Brendan Ottoboni, director of public works-engineering. At an Internal Affairs Committee meeting on Feb. 5, city staff brought up the idea of eliminating parking (about 49 spaces) along that stretch and adding a fifth, center lane dedicated to turns. The City Hall conference room was filled with residents from East Avenue, families and senior citizens sharing concerns, which didn’t just revolve around losing accessibility to their homes but losing property value. The word’s still out on what’s to come, as the committee ultimately requested more information.
Jan Bielfelt raised her children in her home on East Avenue, where she has lived for 25 years. A decision like this, she told the committee, could hasten the demise of the houses along the corridor.
“East Avenue has a lot of residents that love our homes. We’ve been there a long time,” she said. “The residents on that street will be isolated. That’s going to make my home unlivable.”
Lawry-Hall showed up with her husband and 7-month-old Rosalie to plead her case. Parking and the space between traffic and their home were among the major considerations they made before purchasing, she said. If street parking is eliminated, she wonders where her in-laws or service employees, like the air-conditioning company they contacted for repairs last summer, will park. Lawry-Hall doesn’t want to convert her front yard to cement, like some of her neighbors have done for the extra space to park.
“Where would everyone go?” she asked the CN&R. “When you get rid of my parking, you [also] bring the traffic closer to me and my house, and that makes me feel less safe.”
There are also financial implications to consider. Real estate agent Steve Depa told the committee if the homes “lose their parking, they lose their value,” because they become more difficult to sell. Homes on East Avenue are already hard to sell because the street is busy, he added.
Depa estimated a 10 percent to 20 percent decrease in the sales price of a home along that stretch, if street parking is removed. “It becomes a downward spiral in terms of value,” he said.
Ottoboni said later that the city is restricted when it comes to pursuing other structural options for the roadway because the homes are already close to the street. The corridor is actually zoned for office/mixed use. Homes still exist along the roadway because they were grandfathered in when the city annexed county land decades ago. What happens to the lots along that corridor long-term will be dependent upon development opportunities and decisions of property owners.
“It’s a major arterial roadway, so, typically, having residential homes on that type of busy roadway with that [traffic] volume is not a good match,” he said, adding that he understands and appreciates current residents’ concerns.
Lt. Billy Aldridge told the committee the Chico Police Department will be rolling out its new traffic unit in March, and that section of East Avenue is on its radar. Police presence there will “absolutely” be of help when it comes to speeding and people making illegal or unsafe turns.
Lawry-Hall agrees, but she’s still concerned about a long-term solution. She wants to be able to stay in her home for at least the next five years, then, when her family is ready, sell it to another family seeking to purchase their first home.
“For the price range we were able to afford, no matter what we were going to have to give up something. So I chose a place that gave us a really nice home that needs a little love, where I could raise my family safely,” she said. “I don’t think that taking away our parking solves the problem … when we’re looking at safety, speed and having a livable neighborhood.”
Ultimately, the Internal Affairs Committee—made up of Chairman Andrew Coolidge, Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer and Councilman Karl Ory (filling in for Councilwoman Ann Schwab)—asked for more information from city staff regarding traffic collisions and other possible solutions.
“Looking at each individual home, this is a devastating thing if we do this,” Coolidge said regarding parking space removal. He assured the passionate neighbors that the city is not after them, but wants to figure out how to make things safer around Chico.