By a 3-1 vote Wednesday night, the Nevada City Council approved keeping the Commercial Street Boardwalk in place for a one-year period, after about 50 members of the community spoke on the controversial project.
There were more than 90 people in the room when the council opened the discussion on the downtown boardwalk. A few empty seats could be seen in the chamber, but the standing-room crowd stretched out into the hallway at several points.
“I would hate to see us have to go through this year after year after year,” said Council member Duane Strawser.
With the motion made by Mayor Sally Harris, keeping the boardwalk in place for one year — after which another review city staff will be conducted as well as data surveys by independent firms — the council is assured of revisiting the issue at least one more time.
Vice Mayor Terri Andersen was the lone dissenting vote, while Council member Jennifer Ray was absent from the meeting.
“I think it’s a stretch to suggest that because once we had wooden sidewalks, and this is made of wood, that it fits right in,” said Andersen, whose opposition to the boardwalk was based on a cultural resources element of the CEQA process.
“I don’t think we should be apologizing for our own standards,” Andersen said, “just because this project is popular with some people in our community.”
The council split its proceedings into two hearings, to deal separately with matters of taste and those of environmental issues pertaining to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process in play – which earned the thanks of Nevada City resident Tom Grundy.
Grundy referred to the environmental review process as a bludgeon being used as leverage by the boardwalk’s opponents.
Before opening the hearing for public comment, the council heard from city staffers dealing with the regulatory and social issues involved.
City Planner Cindy Siegfried addressed a variety of issues, including concerns raised over whether or not the boardwalk conforms to existing fire code. Siegfried cited a written statement from Sam Goodspeed, fire chief with the Nevada City Fire Department, stating that an exemption had been granted based on finding that Commercial Street is a pre-existing, non-conforming street and that the boardwalk does not impact vehicular traffic.
City Manager David Brennan dealt with some of the social and alleged criminal behavior questions presented.
“It’s one of the few areas that allows people to sit around and loiter,” Brennan said. “But also people use it for socializing and events.”
“In my personal experience I find that much of the behavior we find unacceptable happens in the afternoons and evenings, when people are coming out to the bars,” Brennan added.
Reinette Senum, former Nevada City mayor and one of the boardwalk’s most outspoken proponents, gave a presentation highlighting some of the positive impacts created by the boardwalk. She also asked the city council to establish a protocol for installing parklets, or small parks within existing parking spaces, in the future.
“What we’re asking is to say yes to the boardwalk; do not rip it out,” Senum said.
She went on to ask that the temporary structure be kept in place for five additional years, at which time the environmental questions could again be reviewed.
The meeting’s public comment phase was extensive, and included the perspectives of roughly 50 individuals.
“It’s been more than 40 years since Joni Mitchell sang ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,’” said Nevada City resident Stephen Greenberg. “I am so happy to see my hometown de-pave a parking area and put up a little bit of paradise.”
The Nevada City business community was well represented, but largely split on whether or not to support the boardwalk. Cal Carrington, of Carrington’s Fine Wines, said his business has been adversely affected by the loss of three parking spaces
“For each of the last two years I have lost revenue, and that’s directly attributable to the boardwalk.” Kerrington said.
The Nevada County Historical Society representatives were also present, and firmly opposed keeping the boardwalk. Their position was based on the belief that the boardwalk is not a historical element, and its presence may jeopardize the downtown area’s historical status.
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“I would hate to see us have to go through this year after year after year.”
Council member Duane Strawser