In recent years, Grass Valley has not only rejected a historic preservation ordinance, as it did this week. But it also rescinded its affordable housing ordinance two years ago. And it has sued the county over a land-use plan mandated by the Feds.
That makes Grass Valley stand out among the other municipalities in our county — Nevada City and Truckee, as well as the county itself.
Grass Valley’s fierce independence is making some citizens question whether the city can effectively collaborate with the rest of our small, rural county — considered essential in an economic downturn.
Opponents of the city ordinances that were rejected — a historic preservation and an affordable housing law — say they can be ineffective and too burdensome.
Proponents say the city council has embraced development and rejected regulations to an extreme, shunning basic laws that many other cities regularly have adopted. They say the City Council is too prone to the views of building contractors.
It is not new for Grass Valley to go its own way. It has even sued the county over approval of a land-use plan at the airport that is mandated by federal authorities, as reported previously.
Some of the landowners and contractors involved have endorsed a tea-party candidate, Sue McGuire, rather than the incumbent supervisor and airport commissioner, Nate Beason — a moderate Republican who has supported development, no less.
Beason was joined in the majority vote on the airport commission by Ed Scofield, but Scofield has managed to escape the group’s wrath.
The Beason-McGuire race is being closely watched, and the results of the June election will be telling.
It comes as a longtime “powers that be” in our western county — comprised of longtime leaders of the Contractors Association, the management of The Union newspaper and a majority of Grass Valley City Council members — increasingly is being tested with the “go your own way” policymaking.
For its part, Grass Valley is under pressure to “feed the beast” of annexation that has created demand for new services it is struggling to afford, thanks to declining tax receipts. To its credit, City Hall has been cutting costs.
WILL A GOLD MINE OR TARGET HELP?
Grass Valley is considering all sorts of options to boost revenue, ranging from reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine to a big-box store, such as Target or Kohl’s. One prominent council member has been quietly supporting a “mega-resort,” first reported here.
But Grass Valley leaders also have to consider whether their plans will be suitable for a county that has established itself for a “countryside, outdoor lifestyle,” not a big-box store mindset. Many people move here to escape shopping malls and big industry.
The city faces other challenges as well:
•Affordable housing. Even in this economy, affordable housing is being gobbled up, most real estate agents will tell you. The city still has to attract workers for its developments.
•Renters, not homeowners. Grass Valley has significantly more renters than homeowners. This is an unstable demographic, and the city should be doing more to attract home buyers.
People with money like to invest in preservation-minded communities, because it can help protect their investments better than in communities with “boom and bust” planning — all too common in this day and age.
GLUT OF COMMERCIAL SPACE
•A glut of commercial space. Though Grass Valley wants to encourage more development, it already has a glut of commercial space on the market. A brand-new Walgreens complex in Brunswick Basin is up for sale. The unsold inventory won’t be worked off for years.
•Drying up redevelopment funds. The city has used redevelopment money to fund many of its projects, but that money is drying up. So is government grant money used to for some of its major developments.
What can Grass Valley do? It needs to diversify its economy beyond “boom and bust” economic cycles. First it depended on gold, now it depends on construction and real estate. It seems unable to wean itself away from an “old guard” power structure and become more democratic.
Grass Valley needs some fresh ideas on the city council beyond a “just say no” mindset to historic preservation and affording housing laws. It needs to settle its lawsuit against the county — a case that makes it look petulant.
I wish them a lot of luck, because there are some good, fair-minded people in that town and a lot of businesses depending on the policymakers.
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