Street near university is rightful claimant to throne | The Mean Streets of Chico

Street near university is rightful claimant to throne | The Mean Streets of Chico

Fractured asphalt in the roadway and jagged edges along the shoulder, North Cedar Street presents plenty of hazards for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike, in Chico, California on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)

Welcome to “The Mean Streets of Chico,” a weekly feature that will highlight some of the streets in Chico with pavement in the worst condition.

We do not seek to demean or embarrass city employees, who we believe do they best they can with the resources the taxpayers give them. These people are hard workers who want Chico to be a beautiful, pleasant place to live. Instead, we hope our weekly effort will show readers that our infrastructure is at a reckoning point — and that ignoring the necessary repairs will ultimately reduce property values, cause needless damage to vehicles traveling on the streets, and become more expensive and complicated to fix the longer we wait.

Measure H, which Chico voters approved in November 2022 and which took effect April 1, is a one-cent sales tax increase inside the Chico city limits. Revenues from the tax go directly into the city’s General Fund, which means they can help finance infrastructure improvements in the city. We’ll highlight a Chico street each week that can certainly use a boost.

The rightful champion

You may recall from the July 17 installment of this column that we highlighted Sherman Avenue, particularly the stretch between East Third and East Fifth avenues. We declared it to be the “grand champion” of Chico’s mean streets.

Well, we continued to receive tips from readers that North Cedar Street — which begins at West Fourth Avenue on the north and terminates at West Sacramento Avenue on the south — is pretty awful. One contributor described it as a non-stop series of potholes, cracks and bumps. So, we decided to head over to that street, which borders the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the west, to check out the condition.

Could we have crowned the wrong street as the meanest in Chico? we wondered.

As it turned out, we did bestow the “meanest street” honor on an undeserving thoroughfare. Don’t misinterpret this statement — Sherman Avenue is bad. Driving on that street, and the resulting rattle in your vehicle, sounds as though your suspension system has failed. It’s a mean street, all right.

However, North Cedar Street packs a real punch, and then some. Your vehicle will be pleading for mercy after you’ve driven through potholes shortly after turning off from Sacramento Avenue and passing Rancheria Drive. Coming after the potholes is a smorgasbord of fractured pavement, cracks, more depressions and jagged edges along the shoulders.

As we were standing alongside the street and marveling at its mean condition, several cars drove through the area, deftly using a zig-zag driving pattern to avoid the worst of the pavement. Those folks have clearly been there before.

Things improve a little bit as you drive north — briefly. Then, after going through a minefield of more bumpy surface near West Second Avenue, the trashed pavement grabs you again for a few hundred feet more, but you finally get some relief. When? As you reach the stop sign at West Fourth Avenue.

The strange thing is, despite the condition of the pavement, North Cedar Street isn’t an awful area. There are some houses and apartments that have clearly seen better days, but there are also some newer complexes of apartments and townhouses, catering primarily to Chico State students who appreciate the area’s proximity to school. Those students just have to decide whether it’s worth the price — the wear and tear on their automobiles or their bicycles — to come and go on that street.

On a more serious level, the area of North Cedar — east to Warner Street — encompasses a place that has seen a lot of sorrow since Chico’s founding, for it once was home to the Mechoopda Maidu, natives who occupied this area for thousands of years until Europeans showed up in the 19th Century.

Mike Magliari, a history professor at Chico State and a prominent expert on the history of Chico — especially as it pertains to John and Annie Bidwell — gave us some good background regarding the Mechoopda Rancheria, which had today’s North Cedar Street as its western boundary.

Magliari explained:

“The Mechoopda Rancheria on West Sacramento Avenue was established by John Bidwell at some point in the 1870s when he and Annie relocated the original Rancho Chico Mechoopda village from its site on Chico Creek, just west of the mansion near present-day Holt Hall. They had a Presbyterian chapel built there (at the second site) in December 1882 and the still-surviving cemetery was established later on.

“The rancheria consisted of a rectangular parcel of about 11 or 12 acres bounded by today’s West Sacramento Avenue on the south, West First Avenue on the north, Mechoopda Street on the east, and North Cedar Street on the west. Small, wood-frame homes were built for each of the resident families.

“Following the termination of the federal reservation in the late 1950s, each of the resident families finally received, in 1964, separate, individual private title to the homes and the lots they occupied, and a new street was put it running east-west through the center of the parcel — i.e., Rancheria Drive. Unfortunately, most of the Mechoopda were too poor to hold onto their properties and soon either sold them, or actually lost them when they could no longer afford to pay the property taxes. By 1995, only one lot was still owned by Mechoopda residents.

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