For four hours Tuesday night, May 7, the Chico City Council absorbed information about the best way to ease the ever-worsening traffic congestion along Manzanita Avenue. And by midnight the six councilmembers—Mayor Dan Herbert had to remove himself because he recently bought property that would be affected by the final decision—still couldn’t agree on whether to widen the bridge over Big Chico Creek. So the matter was continued to the May 21 meeting. This was a night of democracy in action, the way is should be done. For months the folks most affected by the project, those who live in the area, have lobbied to keep the city from building a full-blown, four-lane street from Wildwood Avenue south to California Park. That is what the 1994 General Plan calls for. The city’s concern is that as the Chico Urban Area reaches full build-out—going from today’s population of 99,375 to a possible 134,000 in 15 to 20 years—Manzanita, the main north/south route east of town, will not be able to handle increased traffic and as a result motorists will use Mangrove and even the downtown to get north or south. But expanding Manzanita into four lanes, critics say, means the felling of at least 100 trees and the costly rerouting of PG&E power lines that run along the avenue.
Neighbors, led by retired civil engineer Dan Cook, came up with an alternative that uses roundabout intersections at Hooker Oak and Vallombrosa avenues to keep traffic flowing and allows the road to remain two lanes wide. It’s cheaper and less intrusive on the environment, they say. The council seems to go along with that plan for the most part but agrees with the city planning staff recommendation to widen the Sandy Gulch (Lindo Channel) bridge 17 feet on each side to provide lanes for pedestrians, bikes and horse riders. The neighbors want a separate path. Staff says if and when the two-lane road fails and needs to be expanded to four lanes, the bridge will be ready to go. The two-lane proponents worry that installing the expanded bridges now just about guarantees the avenue will one day be expanded to four lanes. Save money, they say, by leaving the bridges as they are and build smaller, non-auto bridges alongside. Expansion of the bridge over the gulch looks like a done deal, however. The council couldn’t agree on how to treat the bridge over Big Chico Creek, and that is what will come back on May 21. What we’ve seen is a good example of how local government should work. Citizens not just protesting what they don’t want, but also coming up with alternatives that they would like to see.
One suit leads to another. Very early one morning in January, a woman named Celeste Draisner put on a cat costume and climbed onto a catwalk that winds around the smokestack of the just-completed $144 million Knauf fiberglass company in Shasta City. Draisner wanted to protest the opening of what some believe to be an environmentally insensitive operation. When local media did not respond, Draisner, who had also unfurled a banner of protest, decided to give up and climb back down. But before she did, plant employees noticed her and called local law enforcement. A hostage negotiator arrived and, thinking he was dealing with a mentally disturbed person, tried to lure her down with an offering—as in, "Here, kitty, kitty. I have a nice saucer of milk for you." Draisner eventually did come down (not because of the milk), and the whole thing was over. Or so she thought. Now comes word that the Knauf folks were not amused by the cat woman’s antics and have filed a civil suit against her saying she interfered with the company’s ability to make bats of insulation—"willful, oppressive and malicious," is how the suit puts it—thereby costing it close to $100,000. And that is how much punishment Knauf now wants squeezed out of the cat woman, along with punitive damages and attorney fees.