Oroville Mercury-Register

Valley’s Edge opponents face better odds with voters

- Evan Tuchinsky Evan Tuchinsky is weekend editor of the Enterprise­Record. You can reach him at etuchinsky@chicoer.com.

Monday afternoon, opponents of Valley Edge gathered at the Hands sculpture outside city hall with three tote bins full of petitions to block developmen­t proposed — and approved — for 1,448 acres in southeast Chico.

This coalition, called Valley’s Edge Resistance, told assembled media, supporters and on-lookers about efforts to trigger a referendum, then brought the bins upstairs to Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson for an initial count. The Butte County ClerkRecor­der’s office has the petitions now to verify the signatures.

Did the opponents gather enough? On each of two issues, they say they got around 8,600, and they need 5,800. Presson’s reported tally was closer to 8,500, but that’s still a good cushion.

Supporters of Valley’s Edge think not. Referendum organizers relied predominan­tly on volunteers, with a few profession­als, to canvas Chicoans. Only unique signatures from residents count toward the total. The city clerk only tallied; the county clerk delves into the details.

Recent initiative­s didn’t get this far. Signature drives to recall Mayor Andrew Coolidge and Councilor Sean Morgan, and another for a referendum against the county’s redistrict­ing map, fell short. Valley’s Edge Resistance set a goal of 8,000 and — at least gross, if not net — hit that target.

We’ll know for sure in 30 days or so whether the proponents or opponents can celebrate. Either way, it’s consequent­ial, because a special election may be the path with the best chance of blocking

Valley’s Edge as planned.

It’s not the only path — the city also faces litigation. Three environmen­tal groups including Chico-based AquAllianc­e have challenged the City Council’s approval of the Valley’s Edge Specific Plan under CEQA, the California Environmen­tal Quality Act. With the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity on board, they bring a weight of experience — and record of legal actions — to the table.

They also bear a different burden: the burden of proof. Referendum organizers need to convince voters; litigants must convince a judge. Those arguing the city made an improper decision need to demonstrat­e that councilors misinterpr­eted the law and incorrectl­y certified the environmen­tal impact report.

It’s one thing to assert that in a campaign; it’s another to do it in court, successful­ly.

The council’s approval includes what are called findings — determinat­ions that support the decision. The complaint hits on these, ranging from greenhouse gas emissions, fire danger and water resources to aesthetics, public safety and traffic. Litigants have the onus to prove councilors wrong.

Take emergency escape routes as an example. City Fire Chief Steve Standridge told the council that the proposed 2,777 housing units on the 1,448-acre would not jeopardize evacuation­s from and near the site, which bounds Skyway and East 20th Street. That is his profession­al judgment. Whose expertise would trump his? That’s on plaintiffs to establish.

They might. Their attorneys are experience­d. But city findings are the baseline, setting the bar.

The referendum organizers have another advantage: passion. Take away the active participan­ts — most Chicoans don’t have skin in the game, so to speak. Who’s more likely to care enough to vote? Those who care the most about the outcome. I’d say the opponents concerned about detrimenta­l effects from developmen­t see higher stakes than the average resident who may want to buy a house there in 10, 20, 40 years.

Whether Valley’s Edge opponents have the signatures, the county clerk will tell. (Whether they have legal merit, the judge will tell.) If they clear the threshold to reach the ballot, they’ll have cleared a high hurdle.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States