Vision of a bigger Biggs

BIG IS BETTER <br>Biggs Mayor John Busch discusses the city’s growth at a packed town hall meeting.

Biggs Mayor John Busch discusses the city’s growth at a packed town hall meeting.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

In the past 20 years, the population of Biggs—now less than 1,800—has gotten smaller, and downtown businesses have struggled, some of them closing altogether. Many residents say they like the small-town feel of the century-old city, but officials say Biggs must either get bigger or face eventual extinction.

“If we don’t grow, someday, somehow, we will cease to be a city,” Mayor John Busch said at a town hall meeting Monday night (Sept. 25). At least 150 residents were in attendance. With a show of hands, a vast majority of them signaled that they favor growth. Further discussion revealed that most hope for businesses and, perhaps, a few houses each year.

“Biggs needs to grow, but it doesn’t need fast growth,” Joyce Howard said after the meeting. She and her husband have lived in Biggs for 40 years. “We’re like the rest of them—we like it the way it is.”

A number of developers are snatching up land within the city and just outside city limits, and Biggs will be updating its general plan, which will call for expansion. So staying the way it is seems unlikely.

“One project calls for 600 homes,” said Councilman Roger David. “Do I like it? No. I like Biggs at 1,800. But it’s going to happen.”

Busch assured the citizens, however, that nothing will happen without their participation. The city will be working on the general plan update over the next two years, and during that time he hopes to hold more town hall meetings. There will also be several General Plan Advisory Committee meetings and planning meetings that will be open to the public.

“If you have your kids in the Biggs school system, you understand the argument for growth,” said Kim Dionne, who attended the meeting with her husband, John. “There’s nothing for our kids here. Nobody wants to see a town double in size, but that’s probably what it’s going to take.”

Besides losing population and having an almost nonexistent retail market, Biggs—a farming community about 25 miles south of Chico and a mile west of Highway 99—faces other problems. The municipal budget is one of them.

The price of police services—contracted out through Gridley—and electricity both have gone up significantly. And the lack of commerce means minimal revenue from sales tax. That, in turn, means not enough funding to fix roads and sidewalks—something many residents expressed concern over. The city is working on mending the budget, fixing streets and code enforcement, officials assured.

There are currently seven potential developments, situated on all sides of the town, said interim City Administrator John Dougherty. The update of the general plan—the city’s blueprint for the future—could increase the planning area (currently 3,166 acres) by 1,500 acres. This change will be brought before committees and the public before being approved, said Scott Friend, city planner. And no potential development will be considered until the plan is complete.

"[The planning area] provides opportunities for development,” Dougherty said by phone. The city limits include only 540 acres—the planning area would increase its potential for growth.

The city recently created a developmental impact fee for new construction. Building a single-family home, for example, would cost approximately $21,000 in fees, on average. That money will be used for such things as road improvements, parks and recreation and police services.

“Growth happens, but it needs to happen in increments,” said state Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, who grew up in Biggs and attended the town meeting. “You have to keep up on infrastructure.”

That seems to be the plan—nobody wants 1,000 new homes to be built tomorrow. Busch anticipates that it will be years before any new developments pop up. And planning for their impact will be key in making sure the city doesn’t outgrow itself.

“It is our desire that each one of these developments will pay its own way,” Busch said. “Growth can be done in an orderly manner.”