Is our “rednecky” culture a growth strategy?

While the rest of the world zigs, we zag:

*Our elected officials, led by Tom McClintock and Dan Logue, are leading the charge to stop AB 32, to control greenhouse gas emissions, dead in its tracks. Their effort, and its exaggerated base of supporters here, is gaining national press attention. McClintock lost to Brown in our county.

*Our local paper — supposedly a beacon of popular opinion — is betting that right-wing idealogues such as Russ “global warming is a hoax” Steele and George “Obama is a socialist” Rebane will somehow increase (more likely, just prolong) readership. There’s no counterbalancing opinion provided as monthly columnists. It’s an insecure and unintelligent strategy.

*National Tea Party Patriot leader and board member Mark Meckler is gaining national attention for his “die ins.” Some of the protests are absurd and gruesome, including bloody images. Meckler is a Nevada County attorney. All the stories mention his ties to our county.

Meanwhile, our county’s population is declining. Yes, declining. This means a declining tax base, too. And declining school enrollment. And less disposable income for our local businesses.

Is this kind of perspective, and the attention it garners, having an impact on whether people want to live here or not?

I would argue absolutely, and it’s time to start a public debate among elected, civic and business leaders. Honestly, how many of their children want to move here and take care of them as they grow older? Few to none.

Our growth strategy is more likely tied to “green” jobs, solar power, bio-fuels and “sustainability.” It also will attract younger people — who respect our changing world — to live and work here.

Let’s face it: The world is changing, and here in the western county, we are not. It’s time to get this discussion out in the open.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

29 thoughts on “Is our “rednecky” culture a growth strategy?”

  1. I thought your readers might like to see some products that the Sierra Business Council has been working on,
    along with a broad coalition of other rural development organization. Our role has been to help with the development of some of these position papers, that were carried to Washington D.C. last spring by the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition. (They have been doing great work for several years)

    To his credit Congressman McClintock has responded positively to many of these ideas, particularly around the need to
    transform forest policy to enable biomass utilization.

    There are six very well thought out position papers here that are about 1/3 of a rural economic development strategy.

    Its clear that there needs to be more than just a resource restoration and green energy strategy. Rural redevelopment strategy has to include place based tourism, relocalizing agriculture, arts and cultural amenities, development of broadband capabilities, some manufacturing and industrial uses, workforce development, local capital investment sources, and a score of other components.

    I could go in to great detail here about what is necessary to leverage rural jobs, but suffice it to say that it is a complicated and long term process. Traditional rural economic development entities, based more on networking and marketing, are generally insufficient to meet the need, especially when they do not have a history of working very collaboratively. Another challenge is the inability of many entities to thing regionally, which is the scale necessary to achieve success.

    With that said many local entities are doing really good work (like the ERC) and understand the need for collaboration and regionalism.

    SBC is focusing its effort right now on getting rural job creation into the agenda of the national policy makers.

    If Nevada County could get together and start organizing around the 80% of the stuff we could agree on there is going to be real opportunity in the next 6 months. The watchword in Washington is JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.

    Expect a second stimulus focused on Jobs–and rural jobs should be a large part of the national strategy.

  2. You do some great work; that said, we can’t continue running up our federal deficit. We don’t need another stimulus. Our kids can’t afford it . . . This fiscal path is unsustainable.

  3. Actually, I agree with you about reducing the debt. I think that should become a priority.

    The big question is how do you do that? Can you reduce the debt with 10% unemployment? Going to be hard. With that said I would prefer any new stimulus be based on a “pay as you go” philosophy. New services should be financed by reductions in the federal budget somewhere else, or new revenue. And right now I am not a fan of new revenue.

  4. Folks,
    We’re soft peddling it. I’m 50 and my wife is 47. We are raising a 7 year old. We chose this area, because we’ve been coming to the Sierra and its foothills since we were children. It’s a beautiful setting.
    We’re “betting” on this place, despite no jobs, expensive real estate, a poorly diversified economy and lack of education. Oh, and a lot of polarized politics. So are a lot of others in our age bracket and younger.
    But how many civic, business and elected officials are making the same bet: with their children longing to come here or living here? Where do the children of folks such as John Spencer, Howard Levine, Russ Steele and George Rebane live? Not here, I’d venture to say. It’s a nonpartisan issue.
    How long is the editor/publisher of The Union going to live here once his children are out of the nest? Though not reported, the publisher of the Sierra Sun bailed for North Carolina, a better opportunity for him and his family.
    How about other civic leaders? It would be an interesting analysis. A lot of the children of our “leaders” who did come here are thinking about leaving, they tell me. The opportunities are better elsewhere. Duh.
    In many ways, our community is dying — a declining and aging population. Many of our “leaders” are more like caretakers for their own self interest. Let’s get a real discussion going. Who’s going to be a leader and reverse the trend? Step up for the community. I double dare you.

  5. I’m not feeling like I’m soft peddling it (or not stepping up). I am working on a state and national level to help my region because its where I can be most useful. Trying to work at the local level it always seems like people are arguing about the 20% instead of working together on the 80%. I would be more than happy to work locally on the 80%.

  6. At what point will Meckler realize (or acknowledge) that the teabaggers are being co-opted by the GOP?

    It was a fake “movement” from the get-go, and with overt racism. Where were the ‘baggers and their “outrage” when Bush invented an excuse for a war that China is still funding? Standing by just as the Republicans were. Phony.

    1. Gloria, could you do a bit of journalism for us? According to Gary Hammer, if we’re curious about the Tea Party Patriots’ finances we can phone Stan Meckler, and he’ll tell us (“For Nevada County, at least, you can call Stan Meckler, and get our financial information. ” – link).
      Could you do this, and find out, say, what their 501(c)(3) status is, how much $$ they raised this year, & how much of it was from Nevada County?

      I’d do it but I have other irons in the fire – and Nevada County journalism needs you.

  7. Steve,
    Thanks for focusing on the community stakeholders. It’s always helpful to be reminded of the silent majority. Happy New Year.

  8. If you want growth in Nevada County, then Congressman McClintock is your man: Not only will his common-sense conservative reputation lead people to move to this area to have good representation, the policies he promotes will bring a return to the proper use of the rich natural resouces that are abundant in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. That will mean jobs, jobs and more jobs. The sooner we can get AB32 out of the way the better!


    1. Move here because of who the congressman is? Novel! Watch out for the flood of people!

      “Proper use” of resources? McClintock is our guy to get that non-gold-mining Canadian gold mining company diggin’ some tunnels!

  9. I do believe that local, state and national political leadership needs to play a meaningful role in a local economic development strategy. Political leadership is critical to building support and identifying and securing the resources necessary to implement a local strategy.

    However, like many localized processes, political leadership needs to take a bit of a “let it grow” approach to ED. To get diverse groups with a stake in ED to the table, and working to identify what they can do and be effective doing, is a long and time consuming process, and politics needs to be checked at the door.

    Most politicians I talk to understand that their involvement can overshadow a process and don’t want to be an integral part of it. They do want community members to tell them what they want and need, and how they can help.

    One thing I notice about Congressman McClintock is that he is a pragmatist who is willing to talk and listen. That’s a real asset.

    A prolonged argument about something like AB32 at the beginning of a process like this just slows things down. There are dozens of things that can be done that do not require changes to state or national policy. The policy framework is an issue, but not the first issue. If it is the first issue it just creates delay and opportunity for politicizing the process. These should not be politicized processes.

    The essence of 80-20 is: work on what you agree on, agree to disagree respectfully on the things you disagree on, and work together to implement.

    I think that even in the area of resource use in a rural county like ours you might find a ton of agreement that we could work on.

    Most would agree that we need to do something about the build-up of fuels in our forests and that biomass utilization is a good way to simultaneously reduce the risk of wildfire and generate electricity.

    Most would agree that we need a strategy to try to retain our timber, farming and ranching industries, with appropriate stewardship objectives built in, in order to maintain a diverse economy.

    Most would agree that we need to work on the development of a well trained workforce with the appropriate set of skills for the new growth industries.

    Most would agree that we need to boost entrepreneurial skills and resources.

    Most would agree that we need to improve access to local investment capital.

    Work on what we agree on and move forward.

  10. In 2006 the US Department of Commerce began a research project on rural economic development. Their basic premise was that rural regions should be a critical priority for economic development. According to their study, 80% of the land area and 20% of the population reside in rural areas, yet most economic competitiveness efforts have been focused on metropolitan areas. Due to this chronic underfunding it’s no surprise that rural regions have, on average, experienced less prosperity than metropolitan regions; job creation, average wages, wage growth, and innovation output in rural regions have not kept pace with metropolitan areas.

    During this process they identified “clusters”, or geographically proximate groups of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particu- lar field, that they could build upon to expand opportunity.

    Nevada County has several already existing clusters, in various states of health. For example, we have a tech cluster, a manufacturing cluster, a health care cluster, a wood products cluster, a tourism and hospitality cluster.

    One thing the research project did was develop a “Rural Clusters of Innovation” Strategy, using the Berkshires as a case study. I think it is a pretty good model for Nevada County to take a look at:

    Click to access Berkshires_Rural_Strategy_Project_2006.pdf

    They came out of this process with specific community and business teams working on sustaining existing clusters, developing new clusters and dealing with critical issues. Their critical issues were: population loss, infrastructure, education and training, collaboration, marketing, and entrepreneurship and innovation.

  11. It’s easy to focus on Nevada County’s shortcomings in this transitional period, but all in all we’ve done a fairly good job of preparing for the future. In the past couple of decades we’ve added a college campus, a fair amount of high tech industries, protection for the Yuba River, and a growing green economy. The County’s finances are stretched, but in much better shape than a lot of our neighbors. If you think we are doing so badly, go check out some of the other rural counties for a reality check.

    As for the demographics, I wouldn’t hold up the ’08 election as an indicator. It’s more likely that Nevada County will go solid Republican in the next election. (Nevada City excepted.) Charlie Brown took an out of town job rather than face McClintock in a rematch.

    In 1998, progressives thought they had won the county when they elected four supervisors. The conservative base rose up and wiped them out four years later. Like the national Dems, they tried too ambitious an agenda and paid for it. Face it, this ain’t Marin County.

  12. Bob,
    Thanks but you sound like Alfred E. Newman: “What me worry.” Sure there are some improvements, like protecting the Yuba River (though here it’s made into a partisan political issue). I think a “growing green economy” and a “fair amount” of high tech industries is a mixed bag of success. Our tax revenue is at risk when GV Group is in bankruptcy and up for sale. Worse, our county’s population is declining, and we are getting older. As for demographics, do you think the growing number of “decline to state” voters here are going to go Republican in the next election? I don’t. Meanwhile, the # of registered Republicans is declining here. No argument about the “progressives” shooting themselves in the foot in 1998 (that’s well documented). But an all-conservative board (including some arch-conservatives) may not represent who we are either. Nobody ever said this was Marin County, which by the way, faces its own problems as the Bay Area’s economic power moves closer to San Jose. The real issue: Is our county a place that can attract young families and “sustain” itself. One thing I find ironic: Without government grants, loans and subsidies, we’d be in deeper trouble here. Yet bashing government seems to be a hallmark of our political thinking. Good discussion, though.

  13. The repeal of AB32 will not be a long drawn out argument: Congressman McClintock is sponsoring the California Jobs Initiative for the November 2010 ballot that will suspend the measure until California’s unemployment rate returns to 5.5%. It will pass with about 70% of the vote.

    And by the way, Congressman McClintock plans on carrying Nevada City as well as the rest of the 4th CD!


  14. John,

    Thanks for your observations. I’m skeptical we’ll get any balanced reporting here, but there’s two sides to that story:

    Most of the programs from AB32 won’t go into effect until 2012 anyway, when the economy will hopefully improve. In addition, the premise that AB32 will destroy jobs is unproven. Proponents argue it will create jobs.

    As for Tom McClintock, he’s a likeable guy. But I sense he’s doing a better job of telling people what they want to hear than delivering the goods. By the time the next election rolls around, I hope he can present a list of persuasive “wins” for our rural, government-dependent county. You know, money for various projects.

    1. Are we talking about the “intolerant society” where we enforce things like Thou Shalt Not Murder [even the unborn] or Thou Shalt Not Steal [even if you are a BIG corporation] and Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness [even if you are the President or a member of congress]

      We used to have a country that practiced most of those and then the humanists took over and gave us the “freedom to be slaves!”

      Slaves who we are told are only a little more advanced than the rocks, so their lives are not worth much; slaves who are not very industrious, so they have to give most of their money to corporations and government; and slaves who are not very smart so they need great leaders like our President who we are not allowed to call a liar even when his lips are moving.

      Given the choice, I would go with Jesus who said He came to give us life and life abundant.



  15. Jeff,

    You and the local booster types always forget us commuters when it comes to promoting Nevada County. We have raised our children here, and hope to continue living here if we can. But we work, play, and vacation in other places. Is that so bad? We are still here most of the time, and contribute to the local civic institutions. But as for issues like the small business environment, Chamber of Commerce issues, etc., well, frankly I find it a bit of a snooze.

    What I find more important interesting are the quality of life issues which keep us here. Among them are a vibrant arts, religious life, good schools, a safe and clean environment, etc. As Bob Crabbe noted above, much of this remains intact, and has indeed been improved over the last 10-15 years. The Sierra College campus is a major accomplishment, as are the improvements on Highways 49 and 20 both come to mind. I hope that such accomplishments can be expanded on.

    But I do agree with you that such issues are threatened by both the worldwide recession in particular (which local officials have little control over), as well as decisions about zoning, schools. Declining enrolments in the schools are a major threat to a balanced community, as are declines in the quality of curriculum, and class-size increases in K-3 in particular, and in all grades in general. The building department can be maddening at times in the way they issues permits, and I have a great deal of concern about what an increase in vacant houses (a byproduct of both the recession and population declines) will mean for the long-term health of the county. But attracting expanding local businesses and manufacturing, and attracting more tourists is not the only way to bring people in. It is also possible to seek out commuters like me who are ready to drive a bit in order to enjoy the strengths Nevada County already have.


    PS: I’m coming around to your views on The Union, particularly as it relates to the editorial page. I don’t mind reading people who I disagree with, but I would prefer that what is published is fact checked, and not exaggerated as has been the case with editorials The Union recently published. There have been some real whoppers in there recently!

  16. I would tend to agree that we should not discount our advantages. I think we have done a lot of things right. The addition of Sierra College Campuses is a great example, and Truckee voting to expand our SC campus will really help the town.

    There are sectors that are doing well, like a slowly expanding emphasis on green investments and applications in the community, but we can do better.

    I am not saying we are terrible, I am saying we should expect more, because we have these amenities.

    By the way, I think that you should probably add Truckee to Nevada City as communities that will likely continue to vote democratic due to demographic change. It will probably be tight, but Truckee is trending democrat.

  17. Steve,

    Not that we should let facts get in the way of a good discussion, but the recent studies show the cost of implementing AB32 could be as high as $147 BILLION and cost as many as 1.1 million jobs.

    Just as the “rosy” reports about how this will be good for the economy do not count those costs, so your comments about nothing begin enforced until 2012 are naive. Businesses look much further than that when making decision about investment and expansion so AB32 is costing us MANY jobs today.


    1. > “the recent studies show the cost of implementing AB32 could be as high as $147 BILLION ”

      John Stoos, would this be Trick#2 (“Predict dire economic consequences, and ignore the cost benefits”) in the Product Defense Industry’s PR Bag o’ Tricks?

      And by “the recent studies”, are you referring to the Varshney and Tootelian study?
      (“Varshney and Tootelian’s study is the worst I have seen on the subject and seems to reflect little training or experience in the area. I looked at their bio’s and saw they have degrees in Finance and Marketing, not Economics (yes, there is a big difference and it shows here).” (link))

      1. Wow Anna, I am glad that you warned us. We certainly would not want anyone with some background in finance and marketing to tell us how some government regulations would impact the business climate. We should only listen to economists, like those told us everything was rosy a few years back!

        If you want to take a carbon based economy and cut back the emission of a basic element like carbon dioxide by at least 20%, you might find a way to argue it is good for the planet, but there is no way to argue it has any great economic benefits!

        It would be like cutting the family income by 20% because you think a system of bartering is a better way to go. Not pretty in the short term.


      2. John, the point is that an analysis of a bill that *only* looks at the costs, and ignores the benefits, is one-sided.

        I’m guessing you’d benefit from reading the URL Steve Frisch provides as supporting documentation below.

    1. Actually I was responding to Anna, but I appreciate the link because it demonstrates the problem we have here. So a major study shows that implementing AB32 will create jobs: How can one argue with that?

      How about we start with their major assumption: “The industries subject to new regulations and/or a cap-and-trade program, due to AB 32, account for about 20 percent of California jobs, have higher than average wages and union density, and are disproportionately filled by men and by Latinos.”

      Policies which by their own admission is a huge economic shift will only impact 20% of California’s job??? Policies that will vastly increase the cost of fuel, energy and raw materials like cement will only impact 20% of our job force? Do 80% of the businesses in California NOT use electricity? Do they not heat or air condition their plants and buildings? Do they not have to transport what they produce? [and by the way, this would include electronic and intellectual transactions because those good old computers use lots of electricity.] All of these cost increases will result in some degree in further job losses in EVERY sector of the California economy.

      So they figure looking at only 20% of the work force, with massive new taxes and government programs they can manage to show modest job increases in those sectors. OK, even if we grant them that, which is not a given by any means, you still will have massive job losses.

      I have not done the studies, but I am guessing that if one did look at the job impact for the other 80% of the economy you would have at least the 1.1 million job loss that has been estimated in other studies.

      Those estimates are probably conservative and again by their own admission, they are being very optimistic with their projections.

      As the proponents of AB32 have stated, this is NOT the time for a massive experiment to be carried out on the California economy.


  18. Sorry John, we’re not going backwards. The past is the past.

    Everyone wants clean air and water. Everyone wants energy that doesn’t encourage terrorism. Since you’ve been posting here for several days now, one would hope that you recognized that this site is beginning to be a hub for collaboration and shared ideas from all political sectors. What do you have to offer?

    Just posting that AB32 has to be put on hold is not going to cut it, unless you can describe in detail how more jobs will be created by continuing with the status quo of polluted air and water, and buying oil from the volatile Middle East with money borrowed from China and other hostile nation states.

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