Unintended consequences?

City Council should be skeptical of Planning Commission’s ‘paradigm shift’

When the Chico City Council considers its Planning Commission’s general-plan recommendations on land use at its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 7), it will be looking at nothing less than a paradigm shift that ultimately will phase out the construction of new single-family homes in favor of multi-family dwellings.

That’s because the commission’s recommendations would open up only a very small amount of land, about 50 acres, for future growth beyond what is already designated in the current (1994) general plan.

The change wouldn’t occur overnight. The council already has put sufficient land in the pipeline to meet Chico’s single-family-housing needs for a decade or more. But eventually it will run out. At that point, planning commissioners believe, the city will begin redeveloping existing “opportunity sites” such as downtown, Mangrove Avenue and East Park Avenue for multi-family dwellings.

The goal is to create a more compact city whose residents live closer to work and shopping and don’t need to rely on cars as much to get around. That’s admirable and in keeping with the mandates of AB 32, the state’s global-warming initiative. But, as many people have pointed out, it could have unintended consequences. It could drive up the prices of existing single-family homes, for example, or it could encourage families to live in outlying communities and commute to Chico to work, thereby obviating any greenhouse-gas gains.

The commission has notably excluded two potential growth areas: Bell-Muir in northwest Chico and the 1,400-acre Honey Run/Doe Mill parcel in southeast Chico. In both cases, the county has indicated a willingness to allow development there if the city does not act. At the very least, we believe, the City Council should include them as future possible growth areas while exploring other ways—such as mixed-use neighborhoods, improved public transit and bike lanes—to reduce car use and traffic.