Two visions of the future

Can Chico be a sustainable community and still make builders happy?

Two very different visions of future growth emerged at the joint Chico City Council and Planning Commission meeting on land needs held Tuesday (July 15).

One group sees Chico continuing pretty much what it has been doing in recent years, building mostly detached, single-family homes in the suburbs. The other is convinced changes in demographics, rising fuel costs, the increasing unaffordability of single-family homes, decreasing water supplies and mandates regarding climate change are going to make that lifestyle less available.

The two groups even had names for each other. The first were the “rearview” folks, those who looked at the past as the principal guide to the future. The second were, in Councilman Steve Bertagna’s words, the “pessimists” who were enacting “Y2K all over again.”

At issue was a report from Bay Area Economics, a consulting firm charged with assessing how much land Chico’s updated general plan would need to designate for growth through 2030. The report gave figures for various uses (349 acres for retail, for instance, or 99 acres for offices), but it was the figures on housing that stirred debate. They offered quantities for two possible scenarios: one based strictly on recent and current growth trends (the “rearview” approach), the other based on increased densities that reflected a possible policy shift (the “pessimistic” view).

Chicoans have been debating growth scenarios for decades, but those who see this moment in history as a watershed are right. They’re not being pessimistic, just realistic. The challenges we face are unprecedented. As Planning Commissioner (and former city Senior Planner) Tom Hayes said, “I’ve never felt in my 30 years in planning less inclined to use historical data for planning for the future. We need to put on our ‘futurist’ hats to come up with good policies.”

There’s no reason those policies can’t also be good for real-estate agents and developers. Creative thinking and compromise can produce a city that is both sustainable and attractive at the same time.

The council is set to take a more comprehensive look at future growth during its Aug. 5 meeting. In the meantime, we think former City Manager Tom Lando was correct when he told the council that the General Plan Advisory Committee needed to be more involved. It was established to work through some of these disagreements and delineate possible policies that could work for all parties, but so far its public presence has been negligible.