ERC releases draft plan for county growth

At its monthly meeting four days ago, the county Economic Resource Council released a draft of its new master plan, outlining short- and long-term goals and a matrix to measure its success.

I have a healthy interest in our county’s economic development — such as attracting more families and higher-paying private sector jobs — so I asked for a copy of the report from the public meeting. I also promised to provide some feedback.

The 20-page document is the economic-development group’s boldest step yet to state specific goals and hold itself accountable for the results, and I hope it gets some publicity. The majority of the group’s $165,000 annual budget comes from the the county, and cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City.

The master plan is being prepared for the county board of supervisors.

Here’s some highlights:

•Short term goals (zero to two years): Scout existing employers for compatible companies that would make good neighbors. Site interviews with existing employers to help build their businesses. Continue a “bring them home” campaign to help encourage high-school graduates to stay here.

Also partner with schools and Sierra College to improve workforce training. Work to increase workforce housing. Community development to educate the community about economics.

•Long term goals (two to five years): Create incentives to attract, such as fast track planning and permitting. Create a business incubator. Strengthen funding resources with a “venture fund.”

Also ensure sufficient land, infrastructure and services to attract companies who desire buildings of 40,000 square feet and up. The report also argues for increasing the ERC’s staff size from just 1.5 positions at present.

I also was pleased to see the ERC wants to target “low energy user,” “low infrastructure impact” and “clean or green friendly” businesses, among others. ERC officials also will attend a medical device and manfacturing conference and others.

No mention was made of attracting mining businesses, but it will come up later.

After a passionate discussion, the ERC will support the Idaho-Maryland mine project by summertime, I predict. But it won’t be a slam dunk, as the growth initiative was. For example, groups such as real estate agents, which are represented on the ERC board, are divided on the issue.

I’m pleased the ERC’s master plan highlighted some real barriers to growth — not being on a major transportation artery, a lack of adequate infrastructure and the lack of fibre-optic cable. 

Under a section “what gets measured gets done,” the report also lists a matrix that will measure the actions and successes of the ERC each year.

Too often our government-funded economic-related groups — I’m thinking of our myriad chambers and their boards — are not held accountable enough by the funding providers. Why not? Gadzooks.

I was glad to see an effort to get Truckee more involved in the group, including providing more money. We don’t do a very good job of embracing the eastern county around here.

In short, it is a thoughtful plan for “smart” growth in our county, with a plan to hold the ERC accountable for helping to execute it. 

Since this is just the draft version, keep in mind that it might change. I suspect the general focus of what I’ve discussed here won’t change much, if at all, though.

A copy of the draft plan is here.

A hunting we will go — for milk money!

Boy, times are tough. This morning I saw a guy at Gold Run School in Nevada City methodically walking across the playground with a metal detector.

Maybe he figured he’d find some poor kid’s milk money.

As it turns out, he’s not alone.

“With this draining economy, record job losses and a hot mess in Congress contemplating almost a $1 trillion stimulus package (or bail out depending on your view), who couldn’t use some extra cash?” according to an article in Digital City this week.

“There’s millions and millions, maybe even billions of dollars, in buried treasure throughout America just waiting for someone with a Radio Shack metal detector to come along.”

“Treasure hunting may pick up in popularity in the recent months as more people are cash-strapped with extra time, but let’s hope the fever pitch never allows a repeat of Geraldo Rivera’s televised treasurrific failure of The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.'”

“Coin shooting” is the term used by metal detector buffs to describe searching for coins that may have fallen after an event — or on the playground.

Rest in peace, Silicon Valley legend Mike Homer

images7Journalists like to joke that they don’t have friends, just sources. 

Sometimes you can have both: So it goes with Mike Homer, a pioneer in Silicon Valley and fellow Cal grad. Homer, 50, died Sunday of a rare neurodegenerative disorder.

Knowing of his condition has disturbed me for months. He was married with three children.

Homer worked at Apple in the early days, and he later helped innovate Web browsing at Netscape. He was instrumental in the browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft, one of the biggest business stories in the ’90s. It led to the antitrust charges against Microsoft, still a reverberating issue.

I got to know Mike well when I was the chief technology writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the editor of CNET.

We’d meet for coffee, and he helped me piece together many important stories, including Apple’s beyond-the-PC strategy (which turned out to be spot on). Once I remember missing lunch (and breakfast) to make an appointment with him: He sat in his office during the discussion, eating a burrito.

Mike was smart and tenacious.

We shared stories about our places at Tahoe and our mutual frustration of no high-speed Internet access to the West Shore. His solution: bring a T1 line to his home. (Since then, DLS and cable-modem Net access was introduced).

“He had seen everything from gigantic success to hugh challenges and blowups,” Netscape co-founder marc Andreessen told The New York Times.

We’ll miss you Mike.

(photo courtesy of UC Berkeley)

Doctor, staff shortage hits new Chapa-De facility

With the economy in ruins, it’s uplifting to drive by the brand-spanking-new Chapa-De medical facility in Grass Valley.

Trouble is, they’re suffering from the ongoing shortage of doctors and medical personnel — just like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

Chapa-De is seeking a full-time family practice physician and family nurse practitioner for the Grass Valley facility, according to the U.S. Indian Health Service.

Other openings are for dental receptionist and records clerk, according to the agency.

In some cases, the problem is creating a patient backlog, I’m hearing.

This is an ongoing concern around here: an aging population and a shortage of medical personnel.

Many nursing facilities hospitals in the area also are short on staff.

Yoo hoo! Hello!. Don’t you think it’s time we diversify our economy beyond retirees and tourism?

The Union’s gas guide needs an editor

Newspapers rushed onto the Web to catch up with the’s but never learned the “golden rule” of Web publishing: provide unique Web content, then monetize it.

Reno-based Swift Communications, owner of The Union, called its plan “Web first.” Newsrooms were told to post Web updates, video, etc., ASAP, and the results were measured.

Trouble is, there was no strategy for the advertising group to monetize the Web content or measure it. Oops.

So they would up giving away print content and more for  free, cannibalizing their paid print subscriptions and eroding advertising.

Swift was not alone. It happened in a lot of places, largely the result of insular management teams who never saw the Internet train coming or were in denial. Surprisingly, most of them are still intact.

Now newspapers are paying more attention to the issue, but they are behind the eight ball.

One unique feature that has run recently at (and not in print) is called the “gas guide.” It provides the gas prices at local stations, a good idea.

Trouble is, all week long, the gas prices for the local stations have been incorrect. (I happen to pass this route daily from my home in Nevada City to an indoor swimming pool in Grass Valley, so I noticed this).

Nobody apparently has bothered to check whether the figures are accurate or not. I notice a disclaimer on the site, provided by an outfit called It also adds, “regular prices in the past 48 hours shown.”

It would be a lot more useful to provide the information in real-time.

But there’s hope. According to the site, “We need your help! We rely on volunteer gas price spotters to submit gas prices. If you know of any current gas prices in this area, please post them using the form below!”

Perhaps somebody could step forward to help out. I’m not sure what the business model is here, except for being a good samaritan.

I’m not sure if a gas guide has legs in such a small town anyway.

Around here, we all know the pattern. For example, the gas station by our house, the Chevron on Sacramento St., is typically the highest in the area, while the ARCO or Flyer’s in Burger Basin are the lowest. It’s been that way since I’ve lived here.

Close but no cigars.

Digital TV switch pushed back to June

Little noticed, but the switch to digital TV has been pushed back from Feb. 17 to June 12.

The U.S. House vote supporting the delay gives people four more months to prepare for the switch.

Around here, the switch became a “buy locally” issue. Some electronics retailers had been advertising they carried the digital-conversion boxes required for the switch, so local residents didn’t have to drive “down the hill” to big-box stores.

The Union had written a front-page story on the issue in December, discussing the Feb. 17 deadline.

Fish market, year-round farmers market in NC

Here’s a big “economic brightspot” for downtown Nevada City: I hear a fresh fish market and year-round farmers market is coming to town.

If all goes well, the fish market and year-round stalls for a farmers market will come to the long-vacant space across from Taylor-Drake furniture on Spring Street. Completion is set for May.

The fish market is expected to be a satellite retail space for Nevada City Seafood, oddly enough located in Grass Valley. (The Whispering Pines location is a good space for processing the fresh fish that comes up regularly from Fisherman’s Wharf, but the store needs a more visible retail outlet).

I’m a big fan of the Rockridge Market in Berkeley, a collection of fresh food stalls, and this is a similar concept. In the winter months, the food stalls in NC could be rented for plants if there aren’t enough fresh vegetables.

Let’s hope this deal is completed. It’s an excellent business concept to bring locals to the downtown!

GV resident, soap-opera legend Clint Ritchie dead

448601851No word from the local media, but a Hollywood soap opera legend who lived on a horse ranch here has died. 

Clint Ritchie, who played a small-town newspaper editor on “One Life to Live” for two decades, died at age 70 after a brief illness, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Ritchie’s death is creating some buzz among long-timers around town. There will be a private funeral service for him on Friday afternoon at Chapel of the Angels in Grass Valley.

“Ritchie was a mainstay of the daytime drama until December 1998, when he retired, only to return to the show the next spring for several weeks. He returned for brief stints in 2003 and 2004,” The Times said.

Ritchie grew up on a farm in North Dakoka, and he relocated to California as a teenager and took acting classes.

He also had roles on TV series such as “The Wild, Wild West,” “Batman” and “Thunder.”

Ritchie suffered a serious accident at the horse ranch in 1993 when he fell off a truck, The Times said. “It took forever,” Ritchie told People magazine. “I heard and felt bones breaking like toothpicks.”

He later returned to the show.

Ritchie died at a hospital in Roseville.

(photo courtesy of Associated Press).

Amid budget crisis, Sen. Sam at Trolley Junction


images6While the Legislature and Gov. Arnold fight about closing the budget gap down in Sacto, I spotted our fearless elected rep. — Sen. Sam Aanestad — lunching up here in Nevada City.

Sen. Sam was at Trolley Junction Tuesday eating lunch with local longtimer Andy Owens, now the general manager of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary and also a minister.

It seemed a long way from the budget woes in Sacramento, where the state’s residents are on pins and needles, hoping lawmakers and the Gov. can get off the dime and strike a deal.

The budget gap stands at a whopping$42 billion through fiscal 2010. (That adds up to a lot of weenies to the moon and back!)

Meanwhile Tuesday, California was cut to the lowest credit rating among the states by S&P, the debt-rating group. 

“At its current level, the rating generally recognizes our view of the lack of political progress around the budget negotiations that we believe is serving to exacerbate the state’s current and projected cash position,” S&P said.

And unions are fighting state attempts at furloughs — a great example of  “not getting it.”

Let’s be fair: perhaps Sam was just taking a deserved break from the tumultuous budget talks. You gotta have some down time.

Besides, meeting with a minister isn’t such a bad thing. At this point, California could use all the prayers it can get.

On second thought, Sam’s lunch guest is also a funeral director. 

Sher: A breath of fresh air at TRPA

images5I’ve followed the TRPA for years as a Tahoe basin cabin owner and was always disturbed that it didn’t merit more investigative reporting from the local community newspaper — or even bloggers. (I figure it was an issue of resources and institutional knowledge, two big “rocks” in the newsroom of a small-town paper).

You’ve got enough fodder at TRPA — inaction, conflicting policy-making, infighting, conflicts of interest — to shine a light on one of the Sierra’s most important government agencies.

When I read the headline Monday that “Harvard graduate appointed to Tahoe Regional Planning Age…” in the Sierra Sun, I was forced to click on the article to see what it was about. (Please write shorter headlines for the Web; not ones that end in …).

I was pleased to see a press release that Byron Sher, the retired longtime California legislator, was appointed to the TRPA board.

If you know Sher, flaunting a Harvard law degree is not what he’s about. In a low-key style, he helped create some of the state’s major environmental laws over more than two decades.

I met Sher when I was covering the leveraged buyout of Pacific Lumber for the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid- ’80s. Later, he helped lead an effort to preserve old-growth redwoods that otherwise might have been chopped down under Texas owner Charles Hurwitz.

Hurwitz doubled the timber cut of Pacific Lumber to pay down junk-bond debt — a symbol of the excesses of LBOs in the ’80s.

“Of all the legislators we’ve known over 50 years, we rate Byron right at the top,”  Bill Lane of Portola Valley, former publisher of Sunset Magazine, told The Almanac.

As the publication summed up: “Laws bearing his stamp help protect California’s air and waters, reduce garbage going to land fills, encourage recycling, promote renewable energy, and preserve forests. He has also been strong on health and education.”

Sher brings a decidedly environmental bent to the TRPA. I’m OK with that, since I’ve never seen a Lakefront McMansion (and the fees that go with it) that TRPA didn’t like. When you’re sailing on the lake, you can see the glare from the windows.

Sher is from Palo Alto. But unlike around here, the Tahoe basin doesn’t seem to resent “flatlanders” as much. After all, sometimes they bring some experience and talent to the party. Besides, he now lives in El Dorado County.

Sher’s also a deft negotiator — something that is called for in dealing with the cross-fire of politicans and agencies that have their hand in the Tahoe cookie jar.

Lake Tahoe is a national treasure, and the TRPA needs a seasoned and talented leader such as Sher to help protect it.

I hope Sher is profiled in the local media someday soon.

(credit: photo courtesy of