Citing a critical lack of access to the basic necessities of life, a group of San Juan Ridge residents gathered with residents of the town of North San Juan to insist Nevada County officials restore public transportation to the rural region.
“The lack of public transportation in North San Juan has had a devastating effect on the entire ridge population … both young and old,” said Mitchell Sayegh, president of North Gold Senior Mountaineers — an organization that provides weekly meals to the elderly.
Sayegh was not the only member of the community to express outrage during a two-hour town hall meeting that took place at Oak Tree Elementary Thursday night.
“The reality is that not having bus service cuts this community off from the rest of the county,” said Anthony Stewart, another resident.
Steve Castleberry, Nevada County Public Works Department director, was on hand to field questions and listen to the concerns about the residents and said he would not delve into the reasons transit service was cut off to North San Juan and The Ridge in 2009.
“You can’t consider market share and use,” Stewart said. “It is part of the county’s responsibility to provide residents access to the things they need.”
Several constituents provided anecdotes about elderly residents on the ridge forgoing necessary medical care because of an inability to reach a health care provider.
“There is a big thrust in government to provide access to health care,” said Wendy Barnhart. “The Affordable Healthcare Act provides an expansion of medical coverage. There is also more health care providers willing to provide services. But a huge part is access to transportation.”
Many of those in attendance acknowledged low ridership numbers were a part of public transportation’s disappearance from the rural area.
However, many felt like The Ridge and North San Juan was an easy punching bag for the county when fiscal constraints appear.
“When there are financial difficulties we get cut,” Sayegh said, adding that staff cuts to Nevada County Sheriff’s Office means less patrols for North San Juan and The Ridge and other county services are scaled back.
“It just speaks to how we are disenfranchised.”
Diana Pasquini said she wanted to see county officials employ some creativity into how they approached solutions for the ridge.
“You’ve heard our concerns,” she said.
Castleberry said the next step was to select four dedicated individuals who would be willing to sit down with county officials and explore solutions.
“There are plenty of models on how to achieve this,” he said. “We’ve got a suite of ideas. We just have to see what we need to do to make it work from a financial side and a staffing side. It will take some time and effort on my part and your part but I am interested in making it happen.”
The town hall covered other issues such as access to social services, a lack of Internet service in most of the region, whether Sheriff Keith Royal has a drone (he doesn’t), the imminence of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) implementation and the proposal to establish a lending library in the area.
Restoring public transportation was the issue of the night.
“We live a world away from the county and other services,” Sayegh said. “We have a bus station but no bus.”
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.