Developers- Green and Brown


by Dick Cory

I’ve seen them both. I have spent the last twenty-one years bartering the restoration and extended use of the Teichert Ponds in Chico, California. This has given me the opportunity to work with many different stakeholders: owners, developers, environmentalists, educators, city personnel, and the general public. As a teacher, I had no vested monetary interest other than to see the ponds as a science study area.

Our original group, the Little Chico Creek Educators Consortium (LCCEC), founded in 1990, originally focused our attention on convincing the city of Chico to assume ownership of the property. It was in the city’s best interest as they had been using the ponds for water detention since 1980.

Teichert Construction Company out of Woodland, California dredged the ponds for gravel to build the freeway along highway 99E in the early 1960s. Pond # 1 on the east border filled to a ten-foot depth after dirt-moving equipment ruptured the aquifer, and heavy winter rains augmented pond volume. Overflow lead to the formation of the 3½-foot deep ponds # 2 and #3 next to the freeway. These ponds originally dried during the hot summer months, which killed the scum. In 1980 storm drains were installed for drainage of over 400+ acres of foothill development around Bruce Road. The ponds have deteriorated with this chemical laden water and inflow from the newly built Chico Mall, which began in 1980. Water volume has increased drowning out cottonwood roots and ponds # 2 and #3 are never dry anymore.

The invasive plant Parrot's Feather chokes waterways in the Ponds. Photo by Robert Woodward.

The eutrophication from nitrate and phosphate “enriched” water reduced sunlight and photosynthesis of bottom plants. Fish died for lack of oxygen, the by-product of photosynthesis. It was the city’s choice to dump storm water into the ponds rather than route the water around ponds # 2 and 3 to flow directly into Little Chico Creek. The owner didn’t stop the inflow, so who knows the circumstances? All we can comment on is the consequences.

Various owners and developers have considered different uses for these 40+ acres of wetland. One investigated the possibilities of building a convention center in the middle of the three ponds. This would have required significant infill and a permit to invade the now designated wetlands. The geography department at Chico State served as a consultant for the proposal. Fortunately, in the interest of time and expense, the project was abandoned.

Another plan was to fill the ponds with dirt and build homes on the area. A huge pile of earth was placed on the south side of pond # 1. One of the co-owners, a developer from L.A., was surprised that the dirt was stolen and no one was talking. This is a problem for absentee owners.

Finally, in 1999, City of Chico took over ownership by trading  $300,000 of mitigation credits for the property. By today’s standards, this was a steal even though a 7.2-acre strip in the middle remains in private ownership. The city gambled this strip was landlocked and never could be developed. The present owner will probably demand mitigation benefits before turning the property over to the city.

Remains of the boat dock. Photo by Robert Woodward.

The previous owner had taken reasonably good care of the property. He had provided a caretaker to live in the original farmhouse in exchange for keeping an eye on the site. The caretaker built a boat launch, stocked pond # 1 with bass and catfish, and grain fed the resident waterfowl. He claimed before 1980s intrusion of wastewater that the water in pond # 1 was potable.

After the city took over the ponds 1999, there was a brisk exchange of ownership around the adjoining area. First, a local organic produce store owner secured a big chunk of the original farm residence. He fenced it off and repaired the old private bridge across Little Chico Creek, and built a beautiful home.

An interim owner of Heritage Oaks set up a trailer for sales that lasted only a few months. The next developer, we shall call Mr. Green, had a plan to incorporate the ponds to the proposed housing development. Paths leading to pond # 1 were designed with wildlife viewing kiosks and connected with existing trails. Mr. Green’s plan seemed environmentally sound, and would have attracted future homebuyers with the same interest.

Good fences make good neighbors? Photo by Dick Cory.

Unfortunately, the property was then sold to a builder with a different perspective. We’ll call him Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown set out to isolate development from the ponds. Elaborate fences and walls were built around the perimeter. Three small drains dumped wastewater into the ponds. He was supposed to build (according to the specifications), an access trail from the postage stamp sized token parking lot on his property to pond # 1.Neither did he build the trail nor restore the vegetation he disturbed with bulldozers in building a retaining wall for a roadway. A housing development foundation should have been required with maintenance fees collected to mitigate damages to the ponds. See why I label him Mr. Brown?

As a last ditch effort, I asked the city to reclaim two lots in strategic locations for access trails through eminent domain. This would have cost the city $30,000 per lot. I wrote the proposal and presented it through the city manager to developer Brown. His response, which quenched the plan was, “I’m in the business of selling homes, not lots!” Guess he showed his true color.

In the future, may the city determine the spectral position of the builders before granting permits? Grant applications for improving this water detention area into a passive recreation/nature study preserve have been submitted, and permits approved.With renewed city interest in restoring and improving the Teichert Ponds will the area become a green oasis? Let’s hope!