Grass Valley needs to change its political culture before it can expect an all-inclusive discussion about development

Dorsey-Marketplace-Landscape-PlanI laughed out loud when I read The Union’s editorial this weekend “We’ve heard the ‘outrage,’ but where are the people?” about the Dorsey Marketplace shopping center, complete with three proposed drive-throughs and a Facebook page with only 27 “likes.”

“And as a community constituent, it only benefits your representative if you are more involved and more educated on the topics at hand, and very likely will result in much more informed decisions by those we elect to make them,” the editorial read.

“We have 13,200 residents in the city, but tonight we only have about 22-23 people here,” Mayor Jason Fouyer said. “Whether you are for or against the project, I think this is a good opportunity for the community to have a discussion of what we want to do when we grow up.”

Here’s why the people don’t show up for an intelligent, all-inclusive discussion about development in Grass Valley:

First of all, the city’s often ugly and petty political culture — well known in our community and in Truckee — has to “grow up,” because it stifles debate about development, a recurring theme.

In the 10 years we’ve lived here, I’ve seen a “my way or the highway” approach to development in Grass Valley with little to no compromise that is unparalleled in our region.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a liberal or a conservative — what matters is whether you support the development. It is a Yosemite Sam-like “you are either for us or against us mindset,” stifling intelligent and civil debate. Some examples:

•Around 2004, Phil Carville and the Getty Trust came up with an award-winning “smart” development at Loma Rica, yet it was shot down by “powers that be” — ironically for the some of the same reasons that the same people are “turning the other cheek” when it comes to the Dorsey Marketplace: that is, whether the development hurts the downtown merchants.

•In 2011, some of the agitators in the airport land-use dispute in Grass Valley wound up endorsing tea-party candidate Sue McGuire rather than incumbent supervisor and airport commissioner Nate Beason, a moderate Republican who supports development — but who also had the “audacity” (and I’m being sarcastic) to join in the majority vote supporting the land-use plan mandated by federal authorities, against the agitators’ wishes. The politicking included signs directed at Beason, such as “So Nate aren’t two terms enough?”

•Who can forget what has happened to Terry Lamphier? Terry has been a longtime critic of development in Grass Valley, including the Dorsey Marketplace. You can argue whether there is a “cause and effect” relationship in Terry’s case, but few people would want to experience that. As for Terry’s legal case, let “due process” run its course. But some people don’t seem to want to.

•Former Nevada City Mayor and business owner Reinette Senum has faced personal attacks for criticizing the Dorsey Marketplace, including comments on the “Don’t Roseville Nevada County” Facebook page (with 1,767 “likes” compared with 27 “likes” for the Dorsey Marketplace Facebook page). Reinette is from Nevada City, and the discussion also has led to unfriendly comments about Nevada City — rekindling a long simmering rivalry that goes back to high school with many of the local old-timers.

In addition to all this, most people think the Dorsey Marketplace has enough City Council votes to be approved. “Why bother?” many of them now think. Others note that BriarPatch Coop decided to pass on Dorsey Marketplace and expand at its current location instead — a decision that satisfied them.

Until Grass Valley (and The Union newspaper, for that matter) can think more seriously about how the city’s own political culture contributes to a lack of participation, the city “fathers” and “mothers” will largely be on their own when it comes to scrutinizing the Dorsey Marketplace — and dealing with the intended and unintended consequences as our elected officials and city planners. Good luck!

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 SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

9 thoughts on “Grass Valley needs to change its political culture before it can expect an all-inclusive discussion about development”

  1. I am not going to comment on the peculiarities of each communities process for discussing and approving new development but wanted to make 3 points to advance the conversation:

    1) The organization I work for, Sierra Business Council, awarded the Carville crew a Sierra Vision Award for their plan for development of Loma Rica Ranch. It remains one for the smartest and best planned communities in the Sierra and in our eyes it is a shame it did not get developed. Opposition was not just from downtown interests who feared it would weaken sales, it also came from the ‘environmental’ community who has still not realized that compact urban development tied to amenities, transit and jobs is the antidote to sprawling greenfield development. If you are an environmentalist who is concerned about climate change you have some soul searching to do my friends, because it is either new and retro-fit communities, re-designed to reduce our footprint, or a 4 degree celsius increase in global temperature and the very place you value is functionally destroyed for the next generation.

    2) We at SBC have long held that public engagement should be a top priority for any jurisdiction with land use authority and that up front discussion is the antidote to back end litigation. For public engagement to be meaningful it must be not just a top priority of cities and counties, it must be invested in as a hedge against gridlock. Bottom line is that if people don’t show up to meetings you have to deploy every tool to go to them, and engage in real and meaningful conversations, and actually listen to them and incorporate their feedback whenever possible, because it is a fair bet that 50% of the time if you don’t they will be showing up at the end of the process with a writ. People can rail against how ‘wrong’ that is, but it is what it is, and the role of government is to be pragmatic and visionary not dogmatic.

    3) Jurisdiction in the Sierra really need to begin looking at the “50 year window” of projects like the Dorsey Marketplace, Truckee Railyard or South Lake Tahoe Y redevelopment, all in process. What you build today will be there in 50 years (a little over average for commercial real estate in California) and it needs to be adaptable to future conditions. That reality argues for flexible ‘Placemaking’, or a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces, that promotes flexibility and the comfort and social connection between users. Why? Because if you don’t you are going to have a dinosaur on your hands that takes 3 times more money to repurpose 25 years from now, and it will lay blighted or dormant because it’s too expensive to redevelop.

    One final comment: there is almost nothing you are currently buying at a shopping center that you are likely to be buying there is 30 years. At current rates of transfer to on-line and mobile retail the ‘shopping center’ is an endangered species, and the sooner people get that in rural small towns the better off they will be (that is a warning to current retailers too; if you are not now or soon heavily investing in on-line and mobile, you are dead). That does not mean the end of the shopping center for certain purposes but it means a radical transformation and the re-crafting of community gathering places.

    http://www.planetizen.com/node/84731/changing-nature-retail-impact-online-shopping-cities

  2. Thanks Steve. You might have noticed that I linked to that SBC award here: “•Around 2004, Phil Carville and the Getty Trust came up with an award-winning “smart” development …”

    1. I noticed, I was reinforcing the message. The issue I am highlighting, that supposed ‘environmental’ opposition to new development is often misguided based on a fear of changing ‘place’ or ‘culture’ (see opposition to affordable housing) when in reality it is contributing to poverty and economic and social stagnation, and exacerbating the impacts of climate change by slowing the redevelopment of our communities to meet the new conditions, is a truly serious issue. I wish there was a place to have that conversation without all the questioning of motives and knee jerk parochialism (on all sides) that usually surrounds it.

      If I have to have one more conversation with a Sierra resident who essentially says,”I am going to oppose density until we control population growth” I am going to scream.

  3. Of course in Nevada County we have a whole crew of people debating whether or not using electronic funds transfers is the first step to fascism and sterilization. I’m so glad they have something to do.

  4. It’s not so much with new building that bothers me, it’s how the building zoning is done.. I don’t like the idea of Grass Valley expanding. I think the area would lose the charm it has for being a wonderful small town mountain community..

  5. As with any strip mall, there is no control over the empty leased out space that Dorsey Marketplace will end up with in the end. There may well be an anchor store or two, but that will be the end of any “known commitment”. So there will be no one to stop the eventual nail salon, dollar store, AM PM, mail boxes are us, or survival gear outposts that usually inhabit these places. No control. Public input is a waste of words to the powers that be– all you have to do is look to the BOS and prop W!

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