Mine: “We treat people of GV with kid gloves.”

At least that’s the word from Jeff Stuart, Emgold’s manager of business development, in a video interview released this week on the Smartstock Online TV Show.

There's gold in them hills!
There's gold in them hills

Stuart talks about the “net migration” that will come to Grass Valley when the mine opens. Though summing up Emgold’s perspective, the interviewer does not ask the executive to address the objections from many others — truck traffic, pollution or concern from some tech companies about vibration.

I’m on the fence about the mine reopening, but Emgold needs to adopt a much more professional P.R. approach. This “softball” interview, shown on Emgold’s corporate Web site for its investors (sadly), did not address the real issues. I’m not alone in this belief, either. The approach is podunk.

You can click here to read the press release and the video interview is here

Judging by its Web site, Smartstox.com seems like an outfit that touts mining stocks — gold, tungsten, silver and copper — that trade for less than a dime per share. Among them, Emgold, Bravo Venture Group, and my favorite, *Golden Chalice* Resources. (It trades for 15 cents per share, higher than the others).

Don’t laugh, though: Nowadays newspaper companies, such as McClatchy, trade for less than $1 a share too! (MNI is trading at 68 cents).

North Auburn draws another booming franchise

images10
A Dutch Bros. in Oregon

Local coffee shop owners beware: A booming Oregon drive-through coffee franchise, Dutch Bros., is coming up the hill.

Not a peep in the Auburn Journal, but the Dutch Bros. franchise will go up where the old Taco Tree used to be on Highway 49 — the same stretch of North Auburn where a Home Depot just opened down the road and a Trader Joe’s is planned. 

The venture also puts more pressure on our Grass Valley/Nevada City business “cul de sac,” as more people from Lake of the Pines and nearby turn left, not right, to visit these up-and-coming businesses. For that matter, the Starbucks in LOP could feel some heat.

Dutch Bros. is to Portland and the rest of Oregon what Starbucks was to Seattle and the neighboring state Washington when it began.

Dutch Bros. — complete with a windmill and blue-and-orange logo — has a sense of humor. Its six shot Irish cup of coffee is called at an “ER 9-1-1.” It is a good corporate citizen, too, donating to local food drives, for example.

images-11“Dutch Brothers got in very early in the drive-through espresso game,” a franshise owner told the Gresham (Ore.) Outlook. “They were definitely at the forefront of the industry. Now they’re open in seven states.”

(photo from vbusa.com)

Is it time to legalize pot?

A press release from the county Sheriff’s Office informs us that, with the help of a state Alcohol Beverage Control grant, agents recovered “several pounds” of processed marijuana at a home in Grass Valley — the result of a sting operation at Dos Banditos restaurant.

Marijuana restaurant?
Marijuana restaurant?

Fine, but I’m left wondering about the cost of a joint operation for a bust like this, in time and money: How much did this state grant cost taxpayers? How long did the investigation take? What else could the officers and agents have been doing instead?

I also wonder how much of a deterrent an arrest like this will be — to the defendants and future ones. Small-time pot deals are routine. We also know about the “revolving door” on crimes like this.

In short, is this the best use of taxpayer’s dollars when state government faces a financial crisis? At least it’s high time we apply the same cost benefit analysis to grants/enforcement as we do to any business practice — and ask some tough questions.

Some would argue it’s time to get more serious about legalizing pot — you know, collect some tax money, rather than just keep spending so much of it. It’s time for a public policy debate on the issue.

“Prohibition isn’t working any better for pot than it did for alcohol,” the San Jose Mercury News wrote in an editorial this week. “The drug is widely available and used across age and income groups. Enforcing laws against it, smoking out growers and jailing users, is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that are needed for education and health care.”

(photo from sodahead.com)

Subtext of Foster vs. NC City Council to ponder

Is there a subtext to Nevada City Treasurer George Foster resigning? George comes from the right, and the Council comes from the left. Whatever; this is America.

But too often around here, nonpartisan issues become partisan ones — and personal, from some past incidents. (Foster was first appointed by ex-Mayor Steve Cottrell.) I see both sides, but why can’t we just agree to disagree and move on?

It’s often denied, but as a former colleague used to joke: “The politics are so nasty around here, because the stakes are so small.” No kidding. I see it all the time — on most all the elected or appointed “non partisan” bodies in our county.

In this case, residents like us, who are  just hoping Nevada City is run right (with a recent track record of gross incompetence), are caught in the middle.

George ran a business and is a longtime “three-digit address” homeowner: Why not welcome his expertise? What does an opinion cost us? The council has the final word.

Meanwhile, more and more of the city gets boarded up: Stonehouse, Dos Banditos (as previously reported), Broad Street Furnishings, and so on up the street.

When will we dispense with drama and just join hands to tackle the “big rocks”? The stakes are a lot higher nowadays than small-town politics of yesteryear.

“Pension spiking”: Is fox guarding the hen house?

Note: With George Foster resigning as Nevada City’s treasurer late Friday, I’m repeating this post from 3/1. It seems even more relevant to ponder now:

images8Pension spiking is the proverbial *golden* spike.

It refers to cases where public sector workers get big raises in the years immediately before retirement to get larger pensions than otherwise.

“This inflates the pension payments to the retirees and, upon retirement of the ’spikee,’ transfers the burden of making payments from the employee’s employer to a public pension fund,” as Wikipedia points out. “This practice is considered a significant contributor to the high cost of public sector pensions.”

Though some states have passed laws to make it more difficult, pension spiking still is commonplace.

Does it happen in our neck of the woods? You bet it does. In our case, a shrinking, small population — and tax base — make our share of the burden worse.

I worry about abuses of pension spiking because of the conflicts of interest inherent in a small town: People who are the “watchdogs” of other people also are their friends. Too often, arm’s length relationships are back slapping ones.

Unlike double dipping — drawing a government pension for one job while also working in the government at another — we can better control pension spiking without passing new laws.

This is all the more reason to have a citizen financial oversight group, such as the one that Nevada City is proposing to disband. With a lot of retired business people and CPAs around, the expertise can’t hurt.

It also could help City Hall continue to recoup from its reputation for being “asleep at the wheel,” which it was. All the meetings are public, and the council has the final word.

We need to work collectively to wring out the excesses of government. We can’t afford it.

Craigslist sued for sex ads — again

Craigslist was sued Thursday for its sex ads — this time from the Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Department.

Erotic ad on Craigslist
Erotic ad on Craigslist

“Craigslist is the single largest source of prostitution in the nation,” the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday, according to sfgate.com. “Missing children, runaways, abused women and women trafficked in from foreign countries are routinely forced to have sex with strangers because they’re being pimped on Craigslist.”

Craigslist issued its own statement: “Misuse of Craigslist to facilitate criminal activity is unacceptable, and we continue to work diligently to prevent it,” the statement said. “Misuse of the site is exceptionally rare compared to how much the site is used for legal purposes. Regardless, any misuse of the site is not tolerated on Craigslist.”

Being curious, I clicked on the Sacramento’s Craiglist under “massage” or “erotic” and “services.” I don’t know what was legal and what was not, but the ads were colorful.

Some Internet content is being monetized, that’s for sure.

(photo from blognetnews.com)

‘Yoo-hoo,’ are we in a depression yet?

images2A full year passed before the government declared we were officially in a “recession.” Gee, thanks for the heads up.

This got me to thinking: Do you think we are in a depression now? I do.

Big-name companies are almost penny stocks: GE trades for less than the price of a toaster, General Motors trades for less than the price of a spark plug, and Citigroup trades for less than the price of an ATM fee.

The stock market is at a 12-year low; I’m exchanging greetings with friends from that era (at the S.F. Chronicle) on Facebook, a sign of the times. We’re all in our late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Others have died.

The government is spending billions of dollars to bail out AIG, Citicorp and GM, and we’re coming to accept that these once-stalwart businesses are “yesterday’s lettuce.”

In short, we are dealing with systemic issues, not cyclical ones. We are dealing with issues — high leverage on Wall Street, runaway government spending and consumer debt — that we should have dealt with years ago.

For people in our ’40s, like my wife and I, the downturn has defined the rest of our life. “Be frugal,” we are learning, just like our depression-era parents.

Others, the retirees who define the demographics in our area, don’t have enough time left to recoup their losses. Their “nest eggs” are cracked, and many of their children will fend for themselves, rather than inherit some money or real estate.

“This is a time for the history books,”  Jim Coons of Coons Advisors, a financial consultant, told The Associated Press.

Around here, storefronts in our historic downtowns go vacant like clockwork. I keep track on Mill Street as I shuttle my son to school each day.

In Nevada City, my hometown, the building where the Stonehouse, Dos Banditos and Broad Street Furnishings used to be are vacant. Other stores are cutting back their hours.

In both downtowns, the “whisper campaign” is that a slew more businesses are wondering when they will have to shut down. Stay tuned.

Up in our “industrial” area, businesses are closing or cutting back. Our high-tech gem, Grass Valley Group, is on the block.

Foreclosures are on the rise throughout the area, including some from our most notable civic and government leaders.

The unemployment rate is much higher than the stated figure, because many of our out-of-work people (real-estate agents, “consultants,” etc.) don’t qualify for unemployment.

In short, we’re in a depression. We won’t know that for sure for a while, when the government releases “official” figures.

Let’s hope that at that point  we can look back on the carnage with a sense of relief that it’s ending. Don’t get too excited, though: This time around, I don’t expect a quick snap back.