Why we fight Sterling housing

A 30-year Chico resident, former CSU student and business owner

This is a response to Tom Gascoyne’s March 25 Inside view column that mentioned the Sterling University Housing project proposed for Nord Avenue and Highway 32. Why the firestorm of community opposition? Simple. Since Highway 32 is already operating at below-acceptable levels of service, why put an additional 648 people into the mix? In addition, Chico State University students are gregarious, which means more traffic from friends, compounding the existing traffic problems.

In January, common sense and the Planning Commission said “no” to the project. At the time, the proposal called for 944 residents, but even the reduced number of 648 is still too many. This issue is not just about “a bunch of students,” but rather responsible development, which means conditions of safety come before revenue.

It is difficult to understand why the threat to safety from traffic and the issue of trains are not sufficient to table this development. The government affairs department at Union Pacific Railroad has written both the city of Chico and Sterling voicing its strong opposition to this project: “First, this proposed housing site abuts our right of way, and with existing train traffic, a public safety issue will become a major concern that threatens lives by moving trains and inattentive tenants.”

This concern is underscored by Chico police neighborhood enforcement Officer Bill Dawson, who told the Chico Enterprise-Record in October 2000, “Unfortunately, every year we’ll have a couple of people run over by trains. There is no winner when it comes to a train and a pedestrian.”

In regard to the proposed bike path, both Union Pacific and the neighboring Dauterman property owners have indicated their unwillingness to sell or donate the land for a bike path, thus leaving Sterling residents riding along the already-congested Nord Avenue corridor.

In terms of alternative student transportation, the existence of a shuttle service to Chico State does not guarantee student use. Moreover, students don’t just go to school, but have other destinations such as jobs, shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, meeting friends, etc. And since most Chico State students have access to cars, isn’t it reasonable to assume they’ll use them?

Surrounding neighborhoods are concerned about the need for security in a complex this large. Sterling’s proposed substation does not meet that need. In a recent telephone conversation, Chico police Capt. Mike Maloney said, “There are no scheduled hours ever at a substation. Manning a substation is sporadic at best.” In its proposal to the city, under security Sterling states, “After business hours the answering service forwards all calls to courtesy officers concerning noise, lockouts, parties, etc.” Capt. Maloney’s response: “No way would calls be forwarded to city police.”

We are not just a small pocket of neighbors who, as Gascoyne put it, "don’t want a bunch of students living near them." We are hundreds of residents on 57 streets with numerous occupations including students, retirees, professionals, homemakers and, yes, landlords. We do not live in another state but here, in Chico, where we have a direct stake in community development and where poor planning will affect us for the rest of our lives.