Growth, development, and traffic have been the centerpieces of Nevada County's public discussions for a long time. We have debated and argued over the county's 2020 general plan and the SDA projects in Grass Valley. Now the spotlight is on two initiatives that citizens qualified for the November ballot, Measure Y and Measure Z.
Friends and strangers have stopped me at the BriarPatch, on the street, and at parties to ask my opinions of the measures. My opinions come from the county-wide plan to keep low densities in the unincorporated county lands and put higher densities and job centers where they belong, in the cities. What happens in Grass Valley affects us all.
Measure Z was the first to qualify and it is a true Trojan horse. On the surface it seems like democracy in local action because it requires public elections for all projects that exceed the existing general plan.
In fact, Measure Z promotes the opposite. It requires a strict and inflexible planning process, and it is a bad one. It takes the existing plan and growth map and locks it down for 30 years. This map is filled with areas allowing low-density urban sprawl. If the city or property owners want to exceed these densities with a smart-growth project it is off to the ballot box, for the next 30 years.
Unfortunately this hammer falls heavily on businesses, especially small businesses. Rather then risking an expensive campaign and potentially ugly election, businesses will move on to more friendly jurisdictions. It may be in the county lands or to the next county. So over the years Grass Valley gets out of balance in its jobs/housing ratio.
Interestingly, the reality of Measure Z also gives deep-pocket developers and big box stores a way to keep building in Grass Valley despite the general plan. They roll into town with wads of cash and promise the moon with slick campaigns. This is the Trojan horse that big-box chain stores know how to exploit. And Measure Z would give them 30 years to hammer on the city.
And guess who pays for the elections? The taxpayers. Big developers get to pursue projects that aren't in the general plan, the city can do little about them and the citizens pay for the election. Measure Z provides no protection to the taxpayer that a Measure Z project would control traffic, pay for services, or maintain air and water standards. What a deal!
Measure Z has other hidden surprises. It would extend the 27-year-old general plan map for another 30 years to 2038. Think back 30 years to 1978. Roseville and Lincoln were still country villages, the Internet still a lab toy, and Grass Valley's population was well under 10,000. Given the quickening pace of change, who can predict what we'll need as future planning tools? But I'm sure they don't exist in today's general plan.
If Measure Z was today's law we would have had to wait for elections on the BriarPatch, the hospital expansion and the new affordable co-housing project. And did I mention the taxpayers would foot the bills for all the elections?
Here's what an Aug. 12, 2008, city staff report said about Measure Z: "MGI (Measure Z) will serve to handcuff development, particularly projects having unique or innovative designs, and has a much broader impact on small projects."
Measure Y was written by several of Grass Valley's leaders. Measure Y is not a planning process. It simply takes two of the features in today's general plan - housing units and the city limits - and sets them firmly in place. These limits exist to 2020, the next review time for the current general plan. If the city or a developer wants to go beyond these limits, only then would a vote be required.
And Measure Y requires developers to pay their full fair share of services, not the taxpayer.
In short, Measure Y gives citizens the assurance that Grass Valley is not going to be subjected to a Roseville-like growth explosion. It sets in law the existing sensible growth boundary so Grass Valley doesn't become a city bloated with sprawl developments. Only Measure Y requires that developments guarantee the taxpayers that they won't be paying the bill for new development.
Measure Y provides the stable conditions that attract good businesses and jobs, keeps traffic down, protects land for open space and watersheds, and allows sensible land-use decisions that serve the real needs of Grass Valley.
Please vote 'yes' on Measure Y and 'no' on Measure Z.
Peter Van Zant is a retired Nevada County District 1 supervisor.