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Chico Adapts to Population Surge After Camp Fire

The city works on a plan to accommodate a 20% surge in population following the Camp Fire.

Posted: Dec. 25, 2018 7:08 PM

In the wake of the Camp Fire, many survivors flooded into Chico. A city meant to support 90,000 people now has to figure out how to fit thousands more. Action News Now reporter Stephanie Lin sat down with Chico City Manager Mark Orme on the city's possible plan.

"How many individuals are we able to support without relinquishing high quality of life? It's a delicate balancing act," Orme says to describe the difficult position the city is in. "We want to love on evacuees, but we also have a public to serve. Right in the middle of that, is patience."

The increased traffic for one, now putting that patience to the test. Chico Public Works' Erik Gustafson expects the roadways to take a hit.

"Preliminary estimates show at least 25 additional vehicle trips per day," he tells us, "That's a significant impact in terms of growth, numbers we see generally over several decades."

The city is taking video of the roads to track their deterioration, but it's no overnight fix.

"There's not a lot of large components we can do, but we can quantify and reach for the smaller projects, such as traffic light timing," Gustafson explains. 

As for permanent housing, the city manager says that would need to be answered by Paradise. But Chico is supplying some transitional housing.

The cost of all this is still being calculated by the city. But the city manager expects there to be an $800,000 drop in expected revenue collected from property taxes alone.

"When a tragedy happens in CA, the property tax hit is shared by all taxing entities," Orme explains. 

The disaster did not occur within city limits, but that cost is shared with all entities.

There's also over an estimated $1M in personnel costs, according to the City Manager. Add that to another $1M loss in revenue collected from the transit occupancy tax. That's a 6 percent tax for overnight stays in motels, campsites and RV parks that applies to the thousands of new people living in Chico.

"With the long-term stays, once an individual goes over the 30 days, the tax goes away," Orme says.

That's money lost for chico city police, fire and park services. An impact that Orme says, state and local legislators are aware of. In an ideal situation, the city manager expects most evacuees to have returned home in five years. But till then he and others who run the city continue to learn as they go.

"It's something I don't wish on any other city manager, but needless to say, these things do happen."

With a plan to pay it forward if and when the time comes.

"Hopefully we can help others because we have the level of experience now," Orme says. 

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