Sterling shut down?

Is Sterling University Housing about to drop its efforts to build a 176-unit apartment complex in an old orchard along Nord Avenue? That’s what’s coming over the grapevine these days. Back in March, after meeting with stiff opposition from the neighbors, Sterling spokesman Craig Dickerson said he was not optimistic the project would move forward, saying there was about a 50-50 chance. At that point, the company had already sunk $100,000 into the venture. In an effort to be good neighbors, Sterling agreed to scale back the project from 320 units to 176 to ease neighbors’ fears of being overrun by student types. Sterling also agreed to provide a student shuttle service to and from Chico State University and to build a Class I bike path along Nord to calm traffic concerns. In fact, Sterling said it would meet all kinds of requirements in return for the council’s blessing, which it got in the form of a 4-2 vote, with Councilmember Coleen Jarvis joining Councilmembers Rick Keene, Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl in giving the thumbs up. (Mayor Dan Herbert excused himself from voting because his job as COO of the Sheraton Real Estate Management could be seen as a conflict of interest since that organization rents a lot of student apartments.)

The council’s approval, which comes in the form of rezoning the property from manufacturing to residential, hinged on Sterling’s meeting all those requirements. (Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan said the zoning change was the main reason he voted against the project.) The toughest one would seem to be building the bike path, which required gaining easement along Nord from private property owners, some of whom said they would not be willing to accommodate Sterling. Then there is the threat of a ballot referendum to put the issue to a vote. While opposition to the apartments from the immediate neighbors is obvious and well known, I’ve heard those neighbors had allies across Chico, which means fighting the project at the ballot box may have worked. Calls to the Houston-based company were not returned by press time. While this rumor—as per the very definition of the word—may not be true, even if it is, it does not mean Sterling is giving up on Chico. The company may well be looking at other property in or near town. But unless it’s located, say, next to the Neal Road Landfill, it’s going to meet major neighborhood opposition no matter where it goes. Maybe they should check out the old Bidwell Ranch/Rancho Arroyo property.

So there is a lack of law enforcement in some rural areas of Butte County due to a shortage of sheriff’s deputies. Every problem has a solution, and this one is, uh, dancing right on our laps. I say, based on what we’ve learned about the enthusiastic investigation into the First Amendment Club last year, if the good folks in Magalia or Thermalito want more law enforcement presence in their communities, they should build themselves a strip club. I’d venture to say that for a few months last year the First Amendment Club was the most heavily patrolled spot in all the county.

A sad note of irony here. The Board of Supervisors wanted those strippers just to pack up and go away before their presence ruined Butte County’s reputation. Now, in the wake of the big bust and the first failed prosecution in the case, the whole state knows we have a strip club. We could become the strip club capital of California. You know, it is a well-paying, clean industry. Isn’t that what the local economic-development types are always looking to bring to town? Chamber of Commerce, CEPCO, give me a call. If we can keep our kids from having to move away to find decent employment …