Chico's water towers may not be torn down

Cal Water's exploring options to meet the needs of a community group fighting for the preservation of the four towers.

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 5:42 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 6:07 PM

Cal Water's exploring options to meet the needs of a community group fighting for the preservation of the four towers.

"We back-tracked, we truly thought the best thing to do was to tear them down, from a liability aspect, but we do appreciate the historical value of those tanks and we heard the outcry from the community," said Pete Bonacich, District Manager at the Cal Water Chico-Willows district.

One of the options the Chico Heritage Association presented Cal Water with was to sell or lease the land to a third party who would keep the water towers intact.

In this case, to give the towers to the cell phone companies that already use them.

But there's another offer from a local developer who has a historic vision in mind for the city's future.

"They'd be rebuilt and activated - people could now use stairways to get up to the viewing platform and overlook, they'd be a brand for Chico and Meriam Park, and "farm-to-table", and all the other cool ideas that I have planned for the tank district," said developer Dan Gonzales about his proposal.

Gonzales says he had hoped to solve Cal Water's problem and serve the community by buying at least one tower - but whatever the utility decides to do, his "tank district" concept will still be a part of the coming developments at Meriam Park, as demonstrated by a new billboard on Highway 99 and Entler Avenue, which features a water tower silhouette.

But, the preservationists aren't on board with this plan.

They think that moving the towers should be a very last resort, because it would destroy their historic integrity, and they'd lose their eligibility to qualify for the national register.

No decision has been made at this point.

Last Spring, Cal Water decided their four water towers in Chico were out of use, seismically unsound - and needed to be dismantled.

But a community group, the Chico Heritage Association, fought hard for another solution.

"Explore the national register of historic places eligibility of the towers so they could qualify for the 20% federal tax credit ... negotiate with the city of city for a property tax reduction ... and explore the possibility of bringing the towers up to earthquake safety code by using the state of California historic code," said Michael Magliari, CSU, Chico history professor and point-person for the Chico Heritage Association's cause.

While Cal Water didn't go for these ideas, they are looking at option "D" - sell the towers to someone who actually uses them.

"The process we're in is getting appraisals on the properties, trying to establish a value," said Bonacich.

All four towers are used by cell phone companies to mount their equipment, and it's in their best interest to keep everything as is.

"To move those facilities off those tanks that are there now, that messes up their grid, and there are dollars attached to that so if they can keep the existing location intact, it's to their benefit," said Bonacich.

According to Cal Water, this plan could really go through.

"The tanks stay where they are, those companies make their money leasing to the cell phone companies and Cal Water gets away from the liability of those tanks," said Bonacich.

And the preservationists are onboard.

"That would be a viable alternative, we're in favor of any solution that preserves the water towers and keeps them in their historic location," said Magliari.

"It's hopeful - nothing's been decided we don't have a deal with anybody yet, but we promised we'd explore options and try to keep them where they're at," said Bonacich.

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