Staying or going?

Jesus Center and city collaboration on relocation, expansion continues

The Jesus Center’s current location at 1297 Park Ave.

The Jesus Center’s current location at 1297 Park Ave.

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

More info:
The homeless consolidated services concept first surfaced at a City Council meeting on Nov. 7, 2017. After its unanimous approval, a memorandum of understanding was drafted for the Jesus Center and the city, approved on Feb. 6.
To view the staff reports and minutes, go to

Despite the initial impression that a partnership between the Jesus Center and the city of Chico had ended, property negotiations are ongoing, the CN&R has learned.

During a closed-session meeting last Tuesday (April 3), the City Council discussed selling about 3.5 acres of land by the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds to the Jesus Center (a request made by the nonprofit) but chose not to entertain a vote on the issue, directing City Manager Mark Orme to provide the Jesus Center with an update.

While details about what transpired during closed session aren’t public record, negotiations appeared to have reached a standstill based on statements by Jesus Center Executive Director Laura Cootsona and Mayor Sean Morgan last Thursday (April 5). In a letter addressed to the council, Cootsona wrote that the nonprofit will look at alternative locations for moving and expansion. Meanwhile, the mayor addressed the issue in a public statement chiding his colleagues.

Earlier this week, however, Cootsona made it clear during an interview with the CN&R that the plan hasn’t been nixed—the nonprofit is still negotiating with the city.

“We’re still on really good terms with the city,” she said. “It’s not a done deal.”

The concept, approved unanimously by the council in November, is for the city to work with the nonprofit on the goal of moving its operations from 1297 Park Ave. to city-owned land near the Torres Community Shelter on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. It’s part of a bigger-picture project that would create a consolidated services center in partnership with other providers to serve homeless individuals. Additionally, it would require the relocation of Silver Dollar BMX, which currently leases the property in question.

Though both the consolidated services concept and memorandum of understanding with the Jesus Center were approved by the council unanimously, Morgan’s statement via his online newsletter indicates the issue has taken a political turn: “While disappointing, this plainly reveals that while some of us are trying to find solutions, others would rather use our transient population as political pawns and turn this into an issue during a campaign year.”

Cootsona’s letter states that the Jesus Center has been “encouraged through this process that the Council was willing to put aside partisan concerns to address real human need.” When asked if a political shift could have occurred, she told the CN&R she thinks the issue is bipartisan, but noted that it is an election year.

“I don’t see any reason why we as a community can’t work on this together … without politics being a part,” she said.

One of the hangups appears to surround the purchase of the property, versus a lease. Cootsona posted about the news last Friday on her Facebook page, upon which Councilman Karl Ory commented: “I’m OK with whatever decision Jesus Center makes, but I’d welcome an explanation why a very long-term lease (like Torres Shelter, CHIP, etc) doesn’t work for you. 50 yrs? It is a standard requirement for publicly owned property. Best of luck.”

Cootsona’s response was simply, “Closed Session.”

Ory declined to elaborate to the CN&R on those comments. Setting aside the consolidated services concept, he said, “I hope this isn’t a distraction to the greater housing crisis we have.”

Regarding a sale as opposed to a lease, Cootsona said the Jesus Center’s board proposed purchasing the property because it felt that made the most long-term fiscal sense for the private nonprofit, which relies on donations. Owning the property would offer the Jesus Center more control, she said. If they build a $15 million facility there, it would be theirs.

A lease could be possible, Cootsona continued, but there are still some unanswered questions.

“It’s just not a good investment,” she said. Rebuilding at the current site, she added, is “not the best plan B,” so the center is searching for other properties.

“We know that what we can and cannot do in this location is not enough to change the status quo,” she said. The center’s goal is to “broaden our options to helping those who are most vulnerable.”

Moving forward, Orme said the city is exploring all options, as well as continuing to work with the Jesus Center. The MOU between the pair, which outlines each party’s role and responsibility while working together on the project near the fairgrounds, is still in effect.

“We brought a lot of partners together in this effort to evaluate potential impacts, to evaluate potential successes that can be achieved in this type of effort,” Orme said. “We’re going to continue to strive to see if it can be brought together. Obviously it’s a big item; this is not a simple flick of the switch.”

As for the future of Silver Dollar BMX, which is located on the property the city has been eying for the Jesus Center, the city has identified a potential privately owned spot elsewhere in Chico, Orme said, but he declined to divulge the location.