The city finally gets crackin’ on landscaping adjacent to Second and Flume streets

Someone emailed me recently with a suggestion that the CN&R’s staff pull weeds in the roundabout adjacent to our office at Second and Flume streets. During the exchange, I realized she was referring not just to the center island but also to the portions on the other side of the circular traffic feature—including the strips of land next to US Bank and Sierra Central.

Those outer areas have become quite an eyesore over the past few months. In some places, the weeds are a couple of feet tall. That made me wonder about progress on the efforts to beautify those spaces on this eastern entrance to downtown.

To get the scoop, I spoke with Brendan Ottoboni, the city’s director of public works-engineering. Turns out, he expects to see construction start on the roundabout as soon as mid-July. What he described sounds similar to what’s found at Ringel Park—the small, triangular property leading into downtown from The Esplanade. The design there includes black wrought-iron fencing, a brick feature and a sign welcoming folks to the city, along with rose bushes and other greenery. From my conversation with Ottoboni, it sounds like drought-tolerant plants are planned for the roundabout.

I’m a fan of native landscaping, but pretty much anything is better than the patch of dirt I’ve stared down upon since the completion of the First and Second Street Couplet project almost four years ago. These forthcoming finishing touches have been on the back-burner primarily due to the statewide loss of redevelopment money in 2012.

As for the talk of putting some sort of arts feature in the roundabout, Ottoboni said he pretty much put the kibosh on such a plan. That’s because the main function of those circular features is to control traffic, not aesthetic enhancement. Indeed, the roundabout has halved the number of collisions at that location, Ottoboni noted. An art installation has the potential to distract motorists or attract pedestrians looking for photo ops, he explained.

However, the city is amenable to an installation in an adjacent space, likely one of the patches between Second Street and Municipal Parking Lot No. 1—aka the home of the Saturday farmers’ market—where further landscaping upgrades are planned.

The Arts Commission will vet the projects brought forward by local groups this summer. Ottoboni thinks there’s enough interest that an organization would be willing to donate a piece. The rub is that the city likely would require the group to also maintain it—another sign of what Chico faces in the post-recession era.

As for weed-pulling, well, let’s just say I’m leaving that to the city.

In other news: The CN&R picked up two first-place awards, along with two honorable mentions, in the 2016 Better Newspapers Contest organized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Staff writer Ken Smith’s excellent cover story about local Lego hobbyists (“Brick by brick,” June 16) took home the top award in the category of Profile Feature Story. Meanwhile, Managing Art Director Tina Flynn and Editorial Designer Sandy Peters earned the top award for Inside Page Layout & Design. The honorable mentions were in the categories of Coverage of Local Government (a package of stories and editorials related to the Esplanade Corridor project) and Front Page (three covers by Flynn).

The CN&R competes against the state’s largest weeklies, so it’s nice to get a pat on the back in that context.