Getting to know Chico
You can tell a lot about a new place during a simple stroll or drive, but there’s quite a bit more to Chico than first meets the eye. To help you get a feel for the community, we’ve compiled some important information on health care, schools and our never-boring local politics. Give the facts and figures a read; they’re interesting. Even long-time residents will learn a thing or two.
The population of the city of Chico, 84,396, is a little misleading. That’s because there are pockets of unincorporated land scattered about. Their residents use county services, can’t vote in city elections and are likely not hooked up to the city sewer system.
The “real” population of what’s called the Greater Chico Urban Area is 105,080. That accounts for nearly half of the total Butte County population of 218,069. Chico’s current growth rate is about 3.5 percent. Interestingly, while more people are moving here, enrollment in the elementary schools has gone down in recent years, leading to budget problems.
It’s widely known that there aren’t enough houses to go around in Chico, and rents have gone up in the last five years, too. It’s all relative, though, and what’s pricey in Chico is a bargain by Bay Area or Southern California standards. Expect to pay at least $600 a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment; $750-plus for a two-bedroom in reasonable shape. Houses are at least $1,000 a month. In 2005, the median price for an existing three-bedroom, two-bath home was $339,242, according to city records. The housing market has cooled some recently, but the area is not nearly the bargain it was at the turn of the century.
Chico, like most North Valley towns, is predominantly white—82.4 percent, to be exact. The 2005 census also tallied the city’s population as 12.3 percent Hispanic, 4.2 percent Asian (Chico has a significant Hmong community), 2 percent black and 1.3 percent American Indian. The population of this college town is young: The median age is 26.
If you don’t like hot summers, you’re in for some sufferin’. Temperatures often rise past the 100-degree mark here, but summer has balmy days, too. The hottest month is August. Winters are fairly mild, but wet, with the most rainfall coming in January. The average annual rainfall is 26.04 inches.
Government, services and retail trade continue to be the largest employers in Butte County, but dominant behind the scenes is the $450-million-a-year agriculture industry (almonds and rice in particular).
Much of the local economy is driven by the presence of Chico State University. With more than 2,000 employees and more than 16,000 students, it generates a lot of dollars that turn over in the economy and support businesses. Another large employer is Enloe Medical Center, with 2,100 workers. Butte County’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent to 8 percent and shifts seasonally. The average per-capita income in Chico in 2005 was $21,629, the median household income was $36,602 and the median family income was $50,078. Chico wages are notoriously low, but then the cost of living here is much cheaper than in the big city.
The transit systems for Chico, Oroville and Butte County merged in July 2005, creating Butte Regional Transit, or “B-Line.” Tickets are $1 for in-town service, 75 cents for students ages 6 to 18. Chico State students ride free with their ID cards. (Go to www.bcag.org for more information.) The B-Line features routes running every day but Sunday, plus shuttles to Chico State. Seniors and the mobility-impaired may catch a ride from the Chico Clipper (342-0221).
Greyhound and Amtrak leave from the train station at 450 Orange St. For a fee, you can take a shuttle to the Sacramento Airport, or you can fly out of the Chico Municipal Airport, which is serviced by United’s SkyWest with about six flights a day.
For added fun and safety, pedicabs—with drivers paid by tips—run through downtown Chico on most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Oh, when you’re in your car, watch out for one-way streets, mainly Third and Fourth and Main and Broadway downtown. If you’re lost, maybe you were looking for an avenue, farther north. Don’t worry: rookie mistake. See map.
Protecting and serving Chico are the fine folks at the Chico Police Department, located on Humboldt Road and reachable at 897-4911. The Fire Department has both full-timers and volunteers, responding out of six stations around town. 897-3400.Chico has more than 60 churches, a daily newspaper, three weeklies, including the Chico News & Review (check it out each Thursday!), a student newspaper, about a dozen assorted AM and FM radio stations (including NPR and community radio), a community-access TV station, public television and three network TV affiliates, although two are merged for news.
Chico also has several newcomers clubs that welcome moms and dads hoping to meet people through coffees, luncheons and other social events. For more information, visit www.newcomersclub.com.
The Chico Mall
Located off 20th Street, east of Highway 99, the Chico Mall anchors the retail development at the southeast end of town. It’s a retail hub and the largest shopping area north of Sacramento, and it features Gottschalks, Sears and JC Penney, along with many chain, franchise and locally owned shops. Call 343-0706 for more information. Neighboring properties host grocery superstores, chain restaurants and shopping favorites such as Target, Wal-Mart, Pier 1 Imports, Toys ’R’ Us, Old Navy and Best Buy, with new stores popping up seemingly every day. Most recently, Kohl’s moved into a brand-new complex next to the mall. Other retail and food establishments are sure to follow.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway
One of the busiest shopping areas in Chico, this strip off East 20th Street just west of Highway 99 hosts a variety of retailers, including a newly renovated Costco, Circuit City, Office Depot, Barnes & Noble, Cost Plus World Market, Ashley Furniture, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Food Maxx.
North Valley Plaza
Located off Cohasset Road in north Chico near the Highway 99 interchange, the North Valley Plaza shopping center has undergone an extensive remodel that has resulted in retail “pads” surrounding what’s left of Chico’s first mall. It’s anchored by Mervyn’s and a movie theater. In recent years, the center has attracted several impressive additions, including Jamba Juice, Starbucks and the ever-popular Trader Joe’s.
Chico is big enough that most of the blockbuster feature films quickly make it to screens here, and the locally owned Pageant Theatre fills the void for art-film lovers. The News & Review has a detailed listing of all showings each week, as well as a selection of film reviews.This downtown establishment presents art-house films in a casual atmosphere. Get there early for the couches in the front row, and don’t miss out on Cheapskate Mondays: all seats just $2.50. 351 East Sixth St., 343-0663. www.pageantchico.com.Chico’s big theater, with 14 screens showing first-run films presented by Cinemark. 801 East Ave. (North Valley Plaza), 879-9612. www.cinemark.com.