Update wrapped up

Chico City Council adopts the controversial general plan

Chicoans want a home with a back yard. More specifically, 81 percent of those who participated in a 2007 phone survey said they want a home with a back yard.

Though not an entirely accurate statement, a contingent of Chico builders clung to that statistic Tuesday evening (April 12), using it as a major talking point during the public-comment portion of the Chico City Council’s final meeting on the 2030 Chico General Plan. The council had assembled for the public hearing to consider adopting the final draft of the document, a 20-year comprehensive policy used to guide the growth and preservation of Chico.

Builders Pete Giampaoli, Chris Giampaoli, Pat Conroy and Bill Webb expressed concerns that the general plan, which places emphasis on the city’s maintaining a compact urban form, will prevent them from being able to meet the demand for low-density housing.

Pete Giampaoli lambasted the city, saying staff gave no response to the concerns laid out in two letters back in 2008 and 2009. He noted that a group of builders had attended a public workshop to address the issue.

Giampaoli’s comments rankled Councilman Andy Holcombe, who noted that there had been little public input by builders during much of the discussion of the general plan. (That process included more than 50 public meetings on the topic.)

“To say you didn’t get a response is disingenuous; it’s just not the response you wanted,” Holcombe shot back near the beginning of what turned into three hours and 40 minutes of debate on the document.

Giampaoli had also asked that the panel be honest with the public about the phone survey, a comment that became ironic near the end of the meeting when it was determined that the builders had taken the information out of context.

As noted by Pam Johns, of consulting firm PMC, that survey was actually a wish-list. According to the study, while 81 percent of respondents did indeed indicate they would consider buying a home with a large yard, 72 percent of them also said they would consider a house with a small yard. Moreover, 50 percent of the same respondents said they would consider living in a condo or apartment, while 21 percent said they would consider living over a commercial building.

Developers weren’t the only members of the public to voice opposition to parts of the plan. The specters of two previously controversial issues emerged during the meeting.

At the onset of public comment, resident Adam Fedeli, the first of 18 speakers, asked that the panel remove the West Park Avenue extension and bridge over Comanche Creek as an item of study. “That road—whether or not it would go in there—was decided by a public vote,” said Fedeli, referring to how a majority of voters shot down an extension a decade ago.

(The Chico Planning Commission had recommended that the panel remove the proposed future roadway from the plan.)

Later, local farmer Joe Hogan lamented the council’s decision to keep intact certain portions of the Greenline, the nearly 30-year-old boundary protecting Butte County ag lands.

Of course, for every speaker complaining about the severity of the general plan, another would champion the document or claim it doesn’t go quite far enough to preserve Chico.

Former Planning Commissioner Jon Luvaas, for example, noted that this is the first time a Chico general plan has included the concepts of sustainability. In what was likely a response to the survey regarding homes with large back yards, Luvaas pointed out that market demands do not take into consideration the welfare of future generations.

He pointed to several global environmental calamities, such as declining fisheries, saying that preserving the world for generations to come will take a paradigm shift in which actions aren’t based solely on present desires. Developers need to be a part of the solution, he said.

Luvaas was echoed by several other local environmentalists.

In the end, the council voted 6-0 in favor of certifying the environmental-impact report. Councilman Scott Gruendl showed up tardy and missed that vote. He was present minutes later, however, for further discussions and the votes that took place over the remaining hour of the meeting.

The biggie, of course, was the adoption of the document, which the council members decided to keep intact (meaning they did not remove the West Park Avenue extension).

Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans cast the dissenting votes. Sorensen explained before the vote that the move to higher-density construction will force residents into homes they wouldn’t otherwise choose. As a consequence, some buyers will seek housing in outlying areas, he said.

“It’s not a plan I can be comfortable in endorsing,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Flynn reiterated several times that the general plan isn’t set in stone. In fact, the council made a move when tweaking an implementation guide to include evaluations of development trends, market trends, and other factors into an annual report, rather than every five years.

“It’s setting a general course and a general direction for the next 20 years,” she said, noting issues will be revisited. “We’re not talking in absolutes.”

With that, Walker moved to approve adoption of the document. Holcombe seconded the motion. After the 5-2 vote, and a subsequent unanimous vote approving the implementation guide, the more than three-year-long, exhaustive update ended with little fanfare.