New Chronicle feature stereotypes the foothills as akin to a “Redneck Riviera”

A new feature in The San Francisco Chronicle stereotypes the foothills as akin to a “Redneck Riviera” — missing some of the changes occurring along the way. It ignores the emerging arts and culture, food, wine and “ale trail” experiences in our region, instead looking to our past from more of a “get off my lawn” mindset.

Written by Chris Bateman (“At 70, I’m firmly within our retirement demographic”), “Welcome to Republican California, a land unknown to city dwellers,” it reinforces the stereotypes: “We in the Mother Lode drink ditch water, drive pickup trucks, hang laundry on lines, buy guns and let our dogs run free. Our lawns go unmowed, and rusting cars clutter our yards. You can buy ammo, while it lasts, at a few of our bars.

“In the interests of letting The Chronicle’s readers know and understand a little more about their neighbors in the Mother Lode, I’ll be filing the occasional dispatch from my Tuolumne County home.”

For a Gold Country “seniors” publication, Bateman has written articles such as “Sonora, Jamestown, Moccasin: Future border towns in State of Jefferson?” An excerpt: “You may scoff, dismissing Jefferson as a heated fantasy of the far right. Oz, Middle Earth and Tatooine, you reckon, all have better shots at statehood. But admit it: You didn’t think Trump stood a chance either. And with his win, Jefferson’s chances are also rising.”

Though some of it is tongue-in-cheek, Bateman is clueless in some observations. “(Hillary Clinton did eke out a win in Nevada County, perhaps due to Grass Valley back-to-the-land enclaves left over from the ’60s.)”

Grass Valley? I think Bateman means Nevada City. Duh.

Bateman ought to attend the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley this weekend. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder and woodblock artist Tom Killion (from Marin County) will be speaking.

He also ought to read the Sacramento Bee’s coverage of “Gold Country,” which exposes the diversity of the region rather than clinging to stereotypes. One example is here. Another, a four-star restaurant review, is here.

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 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.

31 thoughts on “New Chronicle feature stereotypes the foothills as akin to a “Redneck Riviera””

  1. Oh, goodie. This kind of commentary is really going to help in our efforts to bring in new families and younger people to our region, looking for a better lifestyle. And the Chron is actually PAYING for this sort of hackneyed drivel??? (Of course, the article goes on to detail some of the positives about living in the Mother Lode…but that doesn’t undo the damage caused by the author’s bogus characterizations. Maybe a letter to the Chron’s editors would be in order…….)

  2. In their Introduction to a geological field guide written in 2007, co-authors Gregg Wilkerson and David Lawler correctly note that Nevada and some other northern counties are not part of the Mother Lode: “This entire region has come to be known generally as the Mother Lode Country, but more technically speaking, the Mother Lode is a belt of gold-bearing quartz veins which appears to start at Mariposa and to terminate at Georgetown in Placer County.”

    Is Nevada County part of the Mother Lode? No.

    That being the case, when Mr. Bateman writes, “We in the Mother Lode drink ditch water, drive pickup trucks, etc..,” he may be writing about his friends and neighbors down in Tuolumne County, but he’s not writing about Nevada City or Grass Valley.

    So not only did Mr. Bateman ignore the cultural riches of Nevada County and reveal a lack of insight when it comes to the politics of Grass Valley and Nevada City, he also flunked his California geology test.

  3. Aren’t we being a little touchy?
    Fearing the tourists will stay away now because some nobody wrote an inconsequential, satirical, country-flavored piece for the city slickers?
    Lots of folks drive pickups in these parts, you need one if you have a patch.
    And ditch water would be nectar of the gods compared to unfiltered mine runoff here, full of toxic metals.
    Let’s be real, visitors like NC if we treat them nicely, run our establishments well and put on a good face.
    The residents of NC are the only ones who really feel the problems we have here (like this last storm!) and we cope our way through them just fine, thank you very much.

    1. Judith,
      For me at least, this has much less to do with the tourists and more to do with another “70-something” retiree defining our lifestyle to others.

  4. Jeff,
    I am 68.
    Does that include me?
    This theme of aging and declining feels like ageism and it’s likely hurting some seniors’ feelings nags, so I would like other Boomers to know that turning 70 is nothing to feel ashamed of.
    Prejudice, bigotry and sexism come in all ages.
    Dylan Roof is living proof.

    1. Judith,
      “Aging and declining” describes our demographics. And it is a voice in our towns that sometimes has a hard time letting others get a word in edgewise.

  5. Sorry, spell check added the word “nag” to my last post.
    Jeff, I’m just saying that any kind of ad hominem shaming is cruel.

  6. Whenever I write about The Chronicle, George Boardman weighs in on his blog. But he never writes how he never made it to The Chronicle, forever relegated to the “minor leagues” of journalism (San Mateo Times, etc). Imaging a man as old as he is who still wears that chip on his shoulder! lol.

    1. Yes, you figured it out! It’s like George Boardman living in Lake of the Pines, because he never could afford St. Francis Wood.

  7. I’m with Judith, we doth protest too much; people are going to generalize, and sometimes reinforce stereotypes, but we should not get overly influenced by the opinions of one guy who happens to move to the foothills and write an article read by perhaps 10,000 people.

    I read “Hillbilly Elegy” over the holidays and the same tendency toward generalization ruins a fine story.

    Mr. Bateman does deliver a grain of truth…that sparsely populated rural regions of California voted for Trump…like Salt Lake City voted for Clinton…more proof that land does not vote…that people vote…and the people who live on the land that doesn’t vote better figure out another way to represent their issues and ideas in the Capitals where the representatives people voted for make the decisions.

    Having worked for years in Sacramento, and occasionally Washington D.C., to try to advance policy that helps the Sierra Nevada I can tell you that much of our indigenous leadership often doesn’t do us any favors and fails to advance policy decisions that fairly or adequately represent our needs. Our leaders are often simply seen as oppositional rather than collaborative; and even if they can weigh in to improve legislation or administrative positions to benefit our region, they usually can’t vote for them or openly support them because they will pay too high a price at home, largely because moderate and progressive forces are so busy contemplating their navels or dividing themselves by debating the finer points of progressive orthodoxy to organize and vote.

    The entire State of Jefferson mindset, the opposition to Reynolds v. Sims that established the principle of one person one vote, the secessionist rhetoric, the projection of the idea that “others” are “taking over” California, the grievance politics that has been a hallmark of our region since the 1980’s, is a total complete, dismal failure, and appears to much of the state to be racist and xenophobic, leading to a continuation of the economic, environmental and social decline of our region.

    Here is the simple plain demographic truth, if you are a white working or middle class rural resident who is occasionally uneasy with the fact that a more diverse demographic and leadership has matriculated in our state, and you think you can retreat into cultural bunkers like one of our Nevada County ‘conservitarians’ regularly advocates rather than work with the new reality, you better get over it quick, because it’s not changing. California is multi-racial, multi-ethnic and diverse, and we are not going back. You can’t go home again.

    The reality is most of our Republican elected officials don’t share that know nothing mindset, yet if they appear to oppose it, and make common cause with leaders from other regions of the state, they will be labeled as liberal compromisers.

    Lest readers think this is solely a partisan observation I can state from personal experience that serial disregard for rural issues is a pattern in Democratic Party policy in Sacramento. That is a reality that some intrepid Democrats are trying to rectify by creating institutions like a rural Democratic Caucus, and organizing in rural regions where they constitute a minority (albeit a large one) to advance policy ideas that can benefit our region. But in the end, legislation is passed by majorities, and if your legislators can’t contribute in a meaningful way to the majority by voting for it, your issues are less important.

    Frankly, as a rural Democrat and relative liberal for our region, I am disturbed with the serial lack of attention rural issues have received from the very ‘friends’ that I usually have common cause with—from liberal urban legislators, to environmental and business organizations, to the environmental justice community, to the Governors Office—I often find myself more at odds with my ‘friends’ than the people who think of themselves as ‘enemies.’

    There are so many issues important to rural regions of California that are not getting adequate attention.

    Rural hospitals are in real trouble, partly due to Medicare reimbursement rules, partly regulatory burdens never addressed in the ACA that are just now getting rectified, and now potentially the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a comparable and viable replacement.

    Rural regions of California receive significantly less funding on a per capita basis for transportation networks, leaving low-income people with a concomitantly higher transportation burden, often cutting them off from jobs and opportunities for advancement.

    One of the most consistently measures metrics fro economic stress is the federal reduced-price lunch program. In coastal California almost 40% of students are eligible for the program; in the Sierra and north State 80% of students are eligible.

    Sole proprietor business income in most Sierra counties has been cut in half since 1975—in a region of small business, where 80% or more of the private sector employees are employed by companies with less than 10 employees—meaning small business ownership is less a path to prosperity than a path to bankruptcy.

    Most of the Sierra Nevada is at least two hours driving, and much of it 5 hours driving, from the closest state university, meaning the option of living at home and attending university is out of reach to many of our youth.

    The Sierra Nevada receives less than 2% of state natural resource funding, even though we are the source of 2/3 of the states developed water supply and the economies of urban regions and the central valley would literally stop if water supplies stopped. Fortunately for customers of East Bay MUD, the San Francisco Public Utilities District, LADWP, and the Metropolitan Water District who supply 2/3 of the population of the state, we can’t turn the faucet off—but climate change and its impacts in the Sierra may do just that over the next 60 years if we don’t begin adapting now.

    The median gross rent as a percentage of household income is roughly the same in Nevada County as it is Los Angeles County (35.2%), yet rural regions have only just begun to focus on the fact that in California it is the cost and availability of housing that is driving people into poverty, and rural regions receive a pittance in affordable housing funds compared to urban regions where strong constituencies drive the issue.

    I could provide a dozen more examples.

    The bottom line is that we better come up with a new way to advocate for rural issues in this state. (I would posit that portions of the inland empire, the central valley, the north state and the north coast are in the same position we are in the Sierra.) If we don’t the decline we have seen in the last 30 years is going to continue and accelerate. We need to get over the ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ mindset and organize together to increase investment, resources, and solutions coming to and from our region, and that should be a strong basis for common cause. I’ll meet the ‘conservitarian’ in the public square to join together on the issues where common cause exists.

    I once posited here that we were on the verge of a ‘democratization’ movement in our rural region…well all I can say is that if old leadership is going to see the light, or if new leadership is going to emerge, it better move now…because we are in real trouble.

    1. I’m not “overly influenced,” just disappointed this is the “voice” that The Chronicle chose, largely for entertainment purposes.

      It’s ironic this hillbilly, stereotype assessment came in the same week that Nevada City is on the cover of Sunset magazine.

      Here’s what the Sunset editor wrote to me in an email: “Nevada City has a long history of being a haven for makers, artists, and musicians because of its affordability and a community that, to this day, welcomes creative types. Those progressive, artistic roots are very much alive today, making it a popular move for people coming from the Bay Area who always dreamed of renovating a classic Victorian near a quaint Main Street.”

      I missed all that in the hillybilly dispatch from Sonora.

      1. Seriously, that tome and you are focusing in on the “overly influenced” line? I agree the Chron chose poorly. But, it’s one frigging guy, one article, one voice in the woods.

        We create our own narrative.

        I’m glad that Nevada City created a great narrative for the Sunset article–I remember many Sierra towns getting top billing in periodicals purporting to identify the subjective “best”–and I would ride that horse for publicity as far as it can go.

        Tomorrow Nevada City, and our region, will be facing the same problems and the magazine will be recycled.

      2. BTW, did you miss the “we” should not get “overly influenced?”

        We, we, we… not you, you, you.

        Collective we…society…mankind as a whole…me too…the world…

  8. Thanks for the insights on the region. Shannon and I look forward to going to lunch with Hilary Hodge next week. Time for more and new narratives!

    1. BTW, this guy in The Chronicle is going to write regularly about our region. He’s their “correspondent.” It’s like having George Boardman or George Rebane be the “correspondent” for your region. lol.

  9. Thanks Jeff,

    If Mr. Bateman is going to write regularly about this region perhaps there will an opportunity for CHIRP or the NCR to familiarize him with the story of the Nisenan people of Nevada County.
    If we could get their story in the Chronicle it could really raise their profile and advance their struggle to have their illegally stolen Federal recognition restored.
    That would help the county tremendously as well.
    We all need to join together and help these people for our mutual benefit.
    Currently, Shelly Covert is speaking passionately on behalf of the Bear River and Nisenan artifact and burial sites of her ancestors that would be inundated and forever lost by the construction of the Centennial Dam.
    Learn more about your tribe at:

  10. I’m afraid this is the only recognition any Indian lands will get for the next four years.
    You can hear the broken promises (and Treaties) from across the room-

    Native American reservations cover just 2 percent of the United States, but they may contain about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with vast coal reserves.
    “Now, a group of advisors to President-elect Donald Trump on Native American issues wants to free those resources from what they call a suffocating federal bureaucracy that holds title to 56 million acres of tribal lands, two chairmen of the coalition told Reuters in exclusive interviews.
    The group proposes to put those lands into private ownership – a politically explosive idea that could upend more than century of policy designed to preserve Indian tribes on U.S.-owned reservations, which are governed by tribal leaders as sovereign nations”.

  11. You can’t make this stuff up! Here’s an excerpt from Boardman’s blog:

    George Boardman says:
    … I’m not sure you would recognize subtle racism if you saw it …

    Todd Juvinall says:
    January 13, 2017 at 12:03 pm
    Having worked for a number of years with people from backgrounds like black, Mexican, Phillipino and others, I will put my knowledge up against your lack of it. And my daughter has a daughter who is half and half. You?

    George Boardman says:
    Todd, note the word “subtle,” something I don’t associate with you.

  12. Isn’t the daughter of your daughter your granddaughter? The sentence does not reflect much personal ownership; kind of a third person reference like “people say” or “some of my best friends are black.” And I always thought “half and half” was a dairy product.

    1. Don’t forget that this is the guy who once said he couldn’t possibly be a racist because he had a black girlfriend.

  13. Steve Cottrell-
    We DO live in the Mother Lode. The Mother Lode region extends from Mariposa to Quincy (California place names). The Mother Lode quartz vein you refer to extends from Mariposa to Georgetown. I rarely agree with Bateman, Boardman, Juvinall, etc., however I don’t believe Bateman inferred that we actually live in a vein of quartz. Take him to task for a hundred other perfectly sound reasons, it isn’t necessary to be silly about it and thus dilute your argument.

    1. Jon:

      As I was writing the comment, I was thinking of the Mother Lode both as a geological and geographical region. But if using the field guide description (specific to the vein itself) was not a good way of making my point, I apologize.

      I believe Nevada County is part of the Northern Mines Region, but not the Mother Lode Region. However, for chambers of commerce and other promotional organizations up and down the full length of Highway 49 –– the Golden Chain Highway –– the term Mother Lode is more romantic and marketable than Northern Mines.

      It may seem to you or others to be a case of splitting hairs, but I don’t think I was being silly by pointing out that Nevada County is not part of the designated Mother Lode Region. It is, however, an important part of what has become known more generally as California Mother Lode Country. On that point, I think we can both agree.

      So when I noticed that Mr. Bateman was apparently including Nevada County residents in his broad-brush description of Mother Lode folks who drink ditch water, let their dogs run free and drive pickup trucks, I thought it was appropriate to point out that Nevada Countyans couldn’t possibly be part of that lifestyle, because the county is not part of the designated Mother Lode Region.

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