Chico ballot fight offers clues to California’s wildfire approach

By Camille von Kaenel | 02/27/2024 06:27 AM EST

A Northern California ballot campaign crystallizes the debate over how California’s wildfires should affect its housing policies.

Evacuees rest in their tents in a parking lot.

Evacuees rest in their tents for the night in a Walmart parking lot in Chico, California, on Nov. 17, 2018, after the state's most damaging and deadly wildfire tore through neighboring Paradise. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

CHICO, California — The debate over whether to keep building in wildfire-prone areas is playing out on the ballot in a Northern California college town next week.

Two measures on the March 5 ballot — spearheaded by local environmental groups and a progressive city council member — are aimed at overturning permits for the 2,700-home Valley’s Edge development, which the city approved in January 2023. They’re arguing that it will expose Chico to more fire risk: The site has burned three times in the last two decades and was recently bumped from a moderate to a high wildfire hazard category by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
recently bumped

“It’s too costly to lose 85 people,” Jared Geiser, an organizer with the Audubon Society, said in a video produced by the Stop Valley’s Edge campaign, referencing the death toll from 2018’s Camp Fire in Paradise, a 20-minute drive away. “It’s too costly to pay for fire insurance. It’s too costly to the environment.”
said in a video


The developer and current and former city fire chiefs, on the other side, are arguing the project will help Butte County adapt to wildfire because it would exceed modern building codes, require homeowners to manage their vegetation and add new access roads and a fire station.