Scoop: New team brought on to help renovate the National and Holbrooke hotels

Acme Hospitality managing partner Sherry Villanueva (Photo credit: Paul Wellman, Santa Barbara Independent)

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 2/4 with an official press release. I posted it in the comments section of this article.

Acme Hospitality, a seasoned food-and-beverage operator that helped create a burgeoning food, wine and art district in Santa Barbara, has been brought onboard to help with the renovation of the National and Holbrooke hotels, Sierra Foothills Report has learned.

“Both projects are making great progress,” said Sherry Villanueva, co-owner and managing partner at Acme Hospitality, in an interview. The hospitality firm owns seven restaurants and a hotel in Santa Barbara, she said.

Designer Jordan Fife is expected to continue scouting out hotels that would be well suited to acquisition and refurbishment, as he did with the National in Nevada City and Holbrooke in Grass Valley, Villanueva said.

“Jordan made some amazing contributions,” she said. “He had a vision that was driven by a love for these properties. He identified them and helped gather them up.”

She continued: “Eastern Real Estate needed an operator that could look at the operational flow of these properties. We have a proven track record and only the best intentions.” Eastern Real Estate, with offices in Boston and Santa Barbara, had collaborated with Fife on the National and Holbrooke.

Villanueva promised “my priority is to get the renovations done as quickly as possible,” working in concert with the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City building departments and local contractors and tradespeople.

She was reluctant to provide a specific time for reopening the National, however. The Holbrooke will close in mid-February, as first reported on Sierra Foothills Report. “We tried to keep it open as long as possible. There is extensive plumbing and electrical work.”

The owners are sensitive to the Holbrooke’s claim as the “oldest continually operating” saloon in the West, so pop-up events are planned, she said.

Acme’s background

Acme Hospitality has won praise for its projects. The Santa Barbara arts district, affectionately known as the Funk Zone, is “the work of prolific Santa Barbara restaurant group Acme Hospitality,” according to L.A. Eater.

“They’re the ones behind popular places like the Lark, Lucky Penny, casual Spanish mainstay Loquita, and more than a few other wine and bakery tenants across the Funk Zone.

“Add in plans for Modern Times to grow a big new brewery and restaurant compound not far away, plus Phillip Frankland Lee’s projects at the Montecito Inn, and suddenly the Central Coast is looking busier than ever.”

Added the San Jose Mercury News: “The Funk Zone nestles up on the east side of State Street, between the ocean and Highway 101, offering an ever-evolving array of ways to eat, drink and play among converted warehouses that now house boutique wineries, taprooms and al fresco dining spots.”

Beyond work, Villanueva has made philanthropy a priority, according to Noozhawk.com. She volunteers on several nonprofit boards and takes service trips around the world with her family.

Her husband and two daughters have completed over 30 service trips together to places in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia and Zambia.  Villanueva graduated from UC Berkeley in 1984.

Local clerk-recorder candidate’s alma mater, struggling Valparaiso University, is set to close

Out of the blue (and gold), Barry Pruett is lashing out at me this morning in the local blogosphere for posting Cal Berkeley’s #1 ranking for a public school. I’m a proud, successful graduate, happily married for over 25  years and owner of a growing, regional business with a bunch of local advertisers. What’s his problem?

Meanwhile, this morning, the law school where Pruett went (according to his “resume”) — Valparaiso University Law School — will soon cease operation, according to a slew of news reports out of the Midwest.

You’d think Pruett — after losing the clerk-recorder’s race in every precinct to Greg Diaz in 2010 — and now suffering this embarrassment, would crawl under a rock, rather than throw them. Small towns are a hoot! His friends, if he has any, ought to tell him to let it go.

Here’s the news report:

“After nearly 140 years of training attorneys, Valparaiso University Law School will soon cease operation,” as the Northwest Indiana Times is reporting.

“Students, faculty and staff were informed Monday of the VU board of directors’ decision to shutter the doors of the school which has produced thousands of attorneys scattered across the globe.

“The decision to close the school came after a deal fell through earlier this month with Middle Tennessee State University to transition the Valparaiso law school to the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, campus. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission voted against MSTU creating a juris doctor program.

“It has been very painful for everybody,” Heckler said about the decision, calling it a ‘very sad day.’

The rest of the article is here.

“Love Walk” fills the streets of downtown Grass Valley

“A racial incident in downtown Grass Valley this week — where slurs were shouted at a Nevada Union High School student as he walked down Mill Street, according to his father on Facebook — has concerned local residents, including the Nevada Union High principal, and it is being held up as a teachable moment,” as Sierra Foothills Report reported, adding “There is also an informal downtown Grass Valley walk taking shape for 5 p.m. on Friday, as a way for people to show their support for this family.”

On Friday night, Facebook was lit up with “citizen journalist” reports of the “love walk,” which drew hundreds and hundreds of locals. This photo is from Debbie Lange’s Facebook page. “Today in my town ❤️❤️❤️,” she wrote.

Residents honor a beloved local and revisit the conundrum of suicide

“A man who carried a ladder to the side of the Foresthill Bridge to scale a fence and jump to his death was identified Thursday by authorities,” as the Auburn Journal is reporting.

“The man’s death took place late Tuesday at the 530-foot-high span, which is California’s highest bridge. . . . By the time deputies arrived, the man had jumped.

“Daniel Brooks 56, of Gold River, was identified by the Sheriff’s Office as the decedent. His body was found on the Auburn side of the canyon in the Auburn State Recreation Area by state Parks Department searchers. Brooks had used the ladder to scale a 6½-foot high fence along the bridge walkway.”

There has been an outpouring of emotions — sadness, grief, love, and sympathy — on Facebook as people have been learning about Daniel’s death, as he was a native and longtime local whom many loved and admired. I learned about this tragedy earlier this week from a friend whose mom knew Daniel for years and shared those feelings.

I posted some of Daniel’s artwork on Facebook, as well as a YouTube interview. Daniel’s origami artwork had been shown around town, at the Nevada City Winery, for example. He once had a shop on Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley.

The overwhelming response shows the power of social media to “connect.” There were hundreds of thoughtful comments, anecdotes, and photos.

“Feel so much in a funk — a sad week for Nevada County,” Debbie Lange wrote on Facebook, referring to the passing of several beloved locals.

“Taking an extra moment to admire Daniel Brooks’ work,” wrote Neil Sarchett, posting some of Daniel’s artwork.  “Rest In Peace, Daniel. You were a gentle and generous soul.”

“He was such a beautiful person,” said Valerie Moberg. ” I will miss his creative spirit and the love he expressed to all,” said Eileen Blodgett.

Others pointed to the conundrum of suicide: “If only he were here to see all the love (being expressed),” wrote another.

These feelings are not new, and our towns have collectively felt the pain of other locals who have taken their own lives. “The MB2 Foundation was started as a way to bring suicide awareness to other people who are suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide. Each year they host the ‘Turkey Trot’, a 5 and 10K run to raise money to support other non-profits in the area with the same goal,” as Anew Day’s website reads.

The nation explored the conundrum of suicide when comedian Robin Williams took his own life. As USA Today reported: “The fact that someone as successful as Williams could kill himself shows that suicide is ‘not about objective markers of happiness and success,’ said Dost Ongur, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of the psychotic disorders division at McLean Hospital outside of Boston.”

Here are some resources on suicide and suicide prevention:

The Mayo Clinic

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center

The YouTube video about Daniel is here:

NU principal, others point to local racial incident as another “teachable moment”

Grass Valley resident Jamal Walker’s video on Facebook

A racial incident in downtown Grass Valley this week — where slurs were shouted at a Nevada Union High School student as he walked down Mill Street,  according to his father on Facebook — has concerned local residents, including the Nevada Union High principal, and it is being held up as a teachable moment.

Other “teachable moments” have occurred in our area as well. Examples are here and here.

“Something needs to be done in the community to enable people to step forward and help people in need and speak up when someone is out of line in order to protect others,” Kelly Rhoden, the principal of Nevada Union High School, said in a thoughtful memo on Thursday to the NU staff titled “Opportunity for Discussion/Awareness/Action.” (Sierra Foothills Report read the memo).

“We are aware as a staff that there is still hate language on campus and in our community. The best we can do is recognize it when it happens and stop it when we see and/or hear it.  I believe we do this and will keep doing this in order to support our kids. This is a bigger issue and one that is occurring nationwide.”

In a live video on Facebook on Wednesday at 4:50 p.m., Rhoden explained, “Jamal Walker (the father of an NU student) tells the disturbing story of an experience his son (Imani) had earlier that evening walking down Mill Street… when a vehicle full of young men began riding alongside him and shouting racial slurs.”

Walker’s post — titled “Come and tell my son to his face that racism doesn’t exist anymore!” — has gone viral among local Facebook readers, so far generating 26,000 views, 482 “sad,” “angry,” and other responses; 484 shares; and 504 comments — and more are being generated each minute.

“What bothers me is that we have all these people who want to maintain that racism doesn’t exist anymore. This is a prime example of that being an outright fantasy,” Walker said on the video.

“For those of you who watched this happen and chose to say absolutely nothing, shame on you. We can do better people. This is not an indictment of Grass Valley. I love it here. It’s a good place full of a lot of good people. But if you want black folks to stop talking about racism, you need to get off your asses and do something when you see it going on. Stop acting like you don’t know.” He added later: “Please feel free to share this post.”

Walker’s video is a reminder of the power of social media in our towns, opening up new channels of communication that didn’t exist before — with signed responses.

A link to Walker’s post is here.

Rhoden added in her memo to the NU staff: ” I thought you might be interested in seeing it and even, if appropriate, discussing it with your students.

“There is also an informal downtown Grass Valley walk taking shape for 5 p.m. on Friday, as a way for people to show their support for this family. The Walkers will gather at the Del Oro Theatre to start. It’s not a political thing — simply a way for a community to show up to actively condemn racism and hate.” (The walk also is being discussed on Facebook).

Neither Rhoden nor the Grass Valley police department officer who was handling the case returned phone calls this afternoon. I spoke to former Grass Valley police chief John Foster, who met with Jamal Walker, and also expressed his concern about the incident, along with others at the high school.

The Facebook responses showed compassion. “Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us that we all can be a part of change,” wrote Diane Jacobson.

“Jamal.. agree with your disappointment in our behavior to not step in and condemn this behavior…let’s step up and we can do better!! 😔get up off your butts and say something folks! Condemn racism when it happens !” wrote Lindy Beatie.

” Jamal, thank you for sharing. I know how painful it is for you and your son. You’re right, too many people are in denial,” said Shawn Ryley.

The Union and League of Women Voters defends “My Sexbot Cut Off My Penis” journalism?

“NC Scooper’s” front page headline today

The Union joined The League of Women Voters in hosting a sophomoric presentation on fake news last week. One of the “panelists” was a computer monitor that displayed the image of a swimming fish (AKA the editor of NC Scooper). The local left and local right rarely agree, but both agreed that this presentation was sophomoric. That was an understatement! Some in the audience walked out. Details are here and here.

But The Union, rather than apologizing, is now defending this mistake with an asinine narrative: “HIT: To the timely and insightful discussion of fake news and satire last week organized and hosted by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday at Sierra Nevada Community College (sic). The managing editor of Snopes, a national fact-checking site, spoke with the publisher of Nevada County Scooper, a news satire site on the spectrum of fake. The anonymity of the site’s contributors irritates some and the mystery adds interest for others. But it appears there’s far more interest in Scooper’s brand of satire than in a couple of local blogs carping about them, based on Alexa’s measurements.”

First of all, it is Sierra College, not “Sierra Nevada Community College.” What idiot wrote and copyedited this? Second, check out the headline from today’s “Scooper”: “My sexbot cut off my penis,” claims area man.” Wow, isn’t that clever “satire.”

In addition, The Union seems to think that “Alexa’s measurements” (AKA projected but not verified web traffic) are the arbitrator of this fiasco.

In fact, the arbitrators are The Union’s circulation and revenue trends, as well as the League’s fundraising efforts as a supposed nonpartisan, nonprofit. This presentation was an embarrassment to both and has damaged their credibility.

How stupid does The Union think its residents are? The self-appointed “establishment” in small towns are a hoot, keeping it “small” and provincial.

Phil Carville: A Caltrans disaster on Hwy. 174

Editor’s note: Phil Carville is one of my favorite locals. He’s held some big titles including  president, Northstar-at-Tahoe; partner, Olympic Valley Associates, Squaw Valley; and president, Carville Sierra. Now he’s chairman of the South Yuba Club. 

Last week, Phil came to our house in Nevada City, we had coffee and caught up. We’re both Cal grads, and he worked at Fibreboard, which I wrote about as a reporter at The Chronicle in the ’80s. Fibreboard owned and operated Northstar. Phil also proposed a “smart” housing project at Loma Rica Ranch, which ran into a local political buzzsaw.

We reminisced, and he told me about a recent concern: Caltrans plans to widen Hwy. 174. It’s a project we’re also passionate about. Our magazine has promoted this “road less traveled” here and here.

Phil has raised some legitimate concerns about the plan. He wrote an opinion column, which he submitted to The Union, me and others. Here it is:

Caltrans has plans to straighten, level and drastically widen a 2-mile section of beautiful Highway 174. This project is slated for 2018, would create an ugly scar of a road and will cost more than $28 million — or about $15 million per mile.

Yes, the road could use some safety and bike lane improvements, but the Caltrans proposal does not solve the basic problems. It creates new safety issues, will increase speeds, does not specifically provide for bike lanes and will cost property owners with road frontage millions of dollars in reduced property values.

Caltrans could make a real contribution to vehicular safety and alternative transportation while preserving the beauty of Nevada County, but this proposal does not do that.

Biased safety statistics — The Caltrans safety justification is based on just three years of accident history – 2010/11 to 2012/13 – in which three persons died and 25 were injured. However, the most recent four years of data show that there were no fatalities and only 12 persons injured. Caltrans focused on only three years and has biased the statistics and conclusion.

When people get together in good faith with an objective to listen to each other, great things can happen … Caltrans and citizens of Nevada County working together.

In the Caltrans three-year study: one fatality was alcohol related when a man drove off the road; the other was a mother (infant daughter) who became distracted, crossed into the oncoming lane and into another car.

We must do all we can to reduce accidents but the Caltrans proposal increases speeds and would not have eliminated the above fatalities.

Bad design — Caltrans has proposed a cleared swath 80 feet wide: two paved 12-foot travel lanes, plus two paved 8-foot recovery lanes, plus two 20-foot “cleared areas” plus additions for cut or fill. This is an unnecessary, huge naked scar of a road. Most of Highway 49 is not close to 80-feet wide. Caltrans proposes building a roadway wider than much of Highway 49 in this 2-mile section of Highway 174.

Huge scar, 1,700 mature trees removed and perhaps a thousand more under the diameter of 6 inches (the proposal apparently does count those). Welcome to “Clear-Cut 174.”

Poor property owners — Those persons with property on the highway will suffer huge declines in property values. In some cases, the roadbed will be within 20-30 feet of their front door. A property could easily lose $50,000 or more in resale value. If 50 property owners lose $50,000 each in value, then collectively they will lose $2.5 million. Caltrans forgot to tell them that.

Institutional inertia — Caltrans could have done a much better design, accomplished safety objectives, improved the environment and provided for bike lanes. Why did it not do so? Probably because 90 percent of the funding comes from the federal government which mandates interstate-like design standards. Highway 174 is a beautiful, local, scenic road — not an interstate highway in Kansas.

Better design — Caltrans could leave the vertical alignment as it is and reduce the horizontal realignment. It could widen travel lanes to 12-feet and provide for 8-foot gravel (not paved) recovery areas. It could build a separate, offset, paved eight-foot wide bike path — like the American River Parkway between Folsom and Sacramento or as is so often built in Germany, France and Italy.

Huge cost savings — Let’s say Caltrans was willing to talk with citizens of Nevada County before plowing ahead with this paved behemoth. With a reduction of nearly 200,000 square feet of pavement, elimination of several hundred thousand cubic yards of dirt and a cost savings of $10 million to $15 million, Nevada County could have a great, new, safe, rural road with a bike path that would set a new standard for future road improvements in our county and perhaps the state.

We don’t need any more governmental $50,000 toilet seats or “Bridges to Nowhere.” Let’s be smart and save the taxpayers a few bucks. This project is a toilet seat.

Be creative — Caltrans … we love you, but we don’t like this ill-conceived project. Let’s put the design “on hold” and have a community charrette on the plan. Charrettes are now used for creative planning of roads, neighborhoods and other built environments. When people get together in good faith with an objective to listen to each other, great things can happen … Caltrans and citizens of Nevada County working together.

Several hundred citizens are organized, concerned and circulating petitions about this project. Visit http://www.savehwy174.com. They want to talk. So let’s meet and talk.

We can do something great if we just talk with one another. Let’s be great!