Rock Creekers turn green
Tree-huggers take note: If you want to turn a large number of ordinary homeowners into environmentalists overnight, all you have to do is propose a sprawling, 15,000-acre subdivision in their back yards.
When such a proposal was made last March by land developer and mitigation banker Dan Korhdt, residents of the North Chico area where the homes would be built sounded the alarm, coalescing into an organization they named the Rock Creek Coalition, after a creek that runs through the area.
Last Thursday, July 28, more than 100 residents of the Rock Creek area gathered in the Chico City Council chambers to arm themselves with information that might help them fight off the proposed development. Before the meeting, neighbors socialized and networked while poring over large maps hung on the chamber walls showing the area of the proposed development and the land holdings of Korhdt’s Loafer Creek LLC.
Louis Pierce, a Rock Creek area homeowner, said Korhdt’s plan, which has yet to be formally presented to county planners, has galvanized his neighborhood.
“If you don’t get in front of somebody’s vision, there’s a chance it could happen,” he said. “This guy’s playing a larger game than the rest of us. He’s got more money than all of us put together, [and] when large groups with multi-millions of dollars start buying all this land, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on.”
Homeowners interviewed at the meeting seemed most concerned about the impact such a project would have on traffic, views and general quality of life in their bucolic neighborhood. But speakers at the event took the opportunity to point out that the Rock Creek area is home to several endangered and threatened species and, just as importantly, is a prime “recharge” area for the Tuscan Aquifer. A development on such land would add miles of pavement, virtually ensuring that less water would end up seeping into the ground, which could affect wells, dry up streams and leave native plants without a water source.
Barbara Hennigan, a self-proclaimed “water groupie” and a member of the county’s Water Advisory Commission, said Rock Creek neighbors had good reason to be concerned.
“Rock Creek used to run year-round,” she said. “A stream is where you can see the aquifer—no one’s seen the aquifer at Rock Creek for a long time.”
Hennigan urged coalition members to get informed and get organized, advice that was echoed by the next speaker, Barbara Vlamis, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council.
“Butte County has some very serious holes in its ability to protect its environment,” she said. “California has already lost 95 percent of its natural wetlands and this is exactly the type of habitat that Mr. Kohrdt has on his lower acres.”
Korhdt himself did not attend the meeting. His company, Loafer Creek, owns some 25,000 acres of undeveloped land in Butte County, making it the second largest landowner behind logging firm Sierra Pacific Industries. Part of Loafer Creek’s land is used for mitigation banking, a process where developers can buy “mitigation credits” using protected lands in exchange for the right to build projects in environmentally sensitive areas. Korhdt apparently plans to sell credits to himself in order to prepare the way for his own projects.
Chico Supervisor Jane Dolan, who also spoke at last Thursday’s meeting, said the Butte County General Plan would currently not allow a development such as Korhdt has proposed. But the plan, she said, will have to be updated someday. When that is accomplished, she said, neighbors need to get involved if they don’t want to “wake up and find that land zoned for agricultural use has been changed to high-density urban residential.”
Chico Councilwoman Maureen Kirk also counseled vigilance, saying, “We [the city] will fight to keep ahead of this and to uphold the quality of life in Chico and especially North Chico.”