Things to come

As I write this, it is the Monday before the big Chico City Council extravaganza featuring four—count ’em, four—big issues: a new four-story parking garage; finally zoning Bidwell Ranch as open space; naming something worthy after Martin Luther King Jr.; and an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the Oak Valley project, better known as the Humboldt Road Burn Dump housing development. (Man, the lineup on this meeting’s agenda is like one of those 1970s super-concerts featuring The Who, Joe Walsh, Jefferson Starship and The Band.) As for the proposed parking structure, I think I know where that one is headed: right across the street from my office. Personally I think it’s a bad idea, and not just because if it’s built I will forevermore sit in the dreary shadow of the massive brick-and-mortar monstrosity. No. There is more to it than that. But if you have to ask, “Why are you against this parking structure?” chances are you’ll never understand the answer.

But listen: I read an interesting story in the May 12 Sacramento Bee, under the headline, “City initiates push for ‘smart growth.’” Sacramento is updating its general plan. The consultants and planners in this process, the story said, are “devising strategies to pack more people and businesses into existing neighborhoods.” Sound familiar? Well, it goes on: “Some urban planning experts have long argued that large amounts of downtown parking actually work against building the kinds of transit-centered, pedestrian-friendly downtowns that every city now seems to want.” Yeah, every city apparently except Chico. A planner named Bruce Starkweather explained in the piece that people don’t visit downtowns because it is convenient to do so; they visit because the downtown is so appealing. A four-story parking garage covering an entire city block does not add to a downtown’s overall appeal.

Consider this: Every Thursday night, now that the weather is warming up, the Downtown Chico Business Association closes off the downtown streets—and all those precious parking spots—to put on a fair or market or some such thing. And even with that considerable loss of parking, somehow hundreds if not thousands of people descend upon the downtown. Where, I want to know, are those people parking? And how can it be that as soon as they open up the streets and those parking spaces again, suddenly there is not enough parking? And I also know there are a number of downtown business owners more concerned about the coming increase in meter rates and hours of enforcement than they are the perceived (by some) deficiency in parking spaces. Even those who want the big brick parking garage have to admit it’s nice to have the problem—even if it is based on perception more than fact—of too many people patronizing the downtown.

Joe Person Sr. has displayed admirable patience in his quest to get something in Chico named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often enduring the slings and arrows of illogical arguments that sometimes veered dangerously close to racism. (Oh hell, let’s just admit it, many of the comments issued in the Tell it to the ER were downright racist.) This week Person gained a victory, even though he had to wade through four and one-half hours of City Council land-use business before realizing it. After years of wrangling with city boards and commissions, Person, carrying out a mission started by fellow activist Willie Hyman, was able to get the city to rename Whitman Avenue from Park Avenue to Community Park, the “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.” Also, Community Park will have the phrase “Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” added to its name and a monument to King will be placed in the park.

A friend of mine asked that I mention the wine tasting benefit for the Chico Community Ballet Company this Sunday, May 22, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Lakeside Pavilion in California Park. Tickets, he said, are $20 ahead of time and $25 at the door. For more information, he told me, call 893-4807. I had to explain to him that I couldn’t include his plug in my column because this space, just like downtown parking spots, is very valuable and must be used judiciously. Sorry, man; no can do.