Chico, Calif. – Action News Now recently told viewers about Paradise High School students returning to class at a temporary location near the Chico Municipal Airport. According to Butte County land use, that area is not zoned for such use. Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough reached out to public safety leaders in the city to ask; is this option safe?
Like many high schools, the scene at the start of day includes dozens of students piling out of busses, parents serving as chauffer and some youngsters driving themselves to class.
Some 700 students are currently attending class in a building right across the street from the Chico Municipal Airport.
Director of Chico’s Public Works; Operations and Maintenance, Erik Gustafson says under normal situations, a school would not be allowed from a land use perspective. He says the facility falls into B-2 airport zone, which is governed by the Butte County Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.
However, that plan does not include single or multi-family homes, group care facilities, schools or children. What is approved, includes aeronautical-based companies and light industry. That often brings with it, traffic and semi-trucks carrying heavy loads.
After the camp fire, the State’s Emergency Proclamation superseded that use plan and the temporary location was approved.
Gustafson says some safety concerns have been raised with the state and with Cal OES. He says a primary concern is with the amount of increased traffic and travel along Cohasset Road. He says the City has asked the state to consider adding a center turn lane at the entrance at AirPark Avenue. He says with no turn lane at either Airpark Boulevard or Boeing Avenue, another airport entrance, there is increased chance of a traffic hazard for potential broadsides or rear-end crashes.
Paradise High School Junior Emma Pillsbury confirms those fears. She drives herself to school and says the past several days of driving to the airport has been a little rough, saying there is no stop sign or signals for turning into the airport. She says there are a lot of cars that slam on the brakes and says drivers have to watch out for that.
Beyond traffic, there is also the need to address an emergency situation that could develop; one that might involve law enforcement. Currently, the property around the Chico Airport falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Chico. That means students at Paradise High School now fall under the care of the Chico Police Department.
Chico Police School Resource Officers are assigned to some campuses in the city but those positions are funding by a grant which stipulates the dollars are earmarked for only Chico Unified School District locations; not Paradise.
However, Chico Police Chief Michael O’Brien says the department and other city public safety resources, are committed to ensuring the safety of the students.
He explains the City is broken into beats and all patrol officers are assigned a specific beat. He says the temporary school location falls into an existing beat; therefore that location will be another assigned responsibility for that officer.
Both the Police Chief and Public Works Director says they have talked with the State and Cal OES about specific safety concerns. Thus far, the request for a center turn lane has not been granted. In the event an emergency did take place involved students, they say the liability for that would fall to the State.
In the meantime, students, teachers, staff and all who travel the Cohasset Road corridor are reminded to go slow, pay attention and be extremely cautious.