The Union staff

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December 30, 2013
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Top stories we’ll remember from 2013

There’s no doubt about it, marijuana continues to be among the top newsmakers in Nevada County.

Whether grabbing headlines through the ballot initiative sought by Americans for Safe Access to rewrite the county’s marijuana cultivation nuisance ordinance, a discussion on the economic impact cannabis brings each harvest or the hundreds of pounds of pot confiscated in the dozens of drug busts, as The Union looks back on the past year one last time, marijuana issues in our community were clearly among the top stories of 2013.

In March, the Nevada County chapter of ASA announced its intention to seek a ballot initiative on the medicinal marijuana cultivation ordinance, which the organization’s representatives say is overly constrictive. After the county’s amendments relating to the ability to operate collectives, as long as one person is living on the site of the grow, ASA-Nevada County President Patricia Smith said amendments should also have included increased garden size.

“Unless you live on 20 acres or more, the ordinance doesn’t allow enough room to grow for more than one patient — and unless you live on at least 10 acres, you do not have room to grow enough medicine for yourself,” Smith said. “Saying it’s OK and then not making allowances to accommodate additional members is deceptive at best.”

“If the board won’t listen to the people, the people will let the board know their wishes at the ballot box,” Smith said.

Two months later, a California Supreme Court unanimous ruling that affirmed local jurisdictions negatively impacted an ASA court case against Nevada County in 2012 after the board of supervisors approved an ordinance designed to regulate medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county. The case, set to go trial in mid-June, was dismissed in Nevada County Superior Court 10 days after the California Supreme Court decision.

ASA-Nevada County representatives were still collecting signatures Monday for the ballot measure, although they had believed to have reached the requisite number of signatures needed to prompt a special election for voters to choose between the county’s current medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and a version that advocates tout as more conducive to collectives and prescription holders. But Smith said she was told in early December her group needed nearly 1,000 additional signatures to meet the Nevada County clerk recorder’s office deadline — a criterion she said she planned both to meet and contest. Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz told The Union last week the needed number has been the same since his office first shared such criteria with ASA-Nevada County.

“The final number is part of the formula equation we gave them when we presented them the information months ago,” Diaz said.

On Monday, ASA-Nevada County reported it believes it has now collected the required 9,923 signatures to force an election (See related story, page A1).

In early November, The Union published a special report discussing the marijuana issues in Nevada County, both its potential impact on the local economy and young people, as well as how migrant marijuana harvesters impact the community.

Controversy continues at Consolidated Fire District

Nevada County Consolidated Fire Chief Adolf Zubia, who had been at the helm of the fire district for just three months, announced his resignation at a Nov. 12 board meeting meant to focus on the district’s budget projections.

Zubia, whose resignation was effective Nov. 30, said he resigned because of not making progress in the fire district as quickly as he felt was needed.

“There were some board members with agendas that didn’t seem to align with the mission of the fire district,” Zubia told The Union.

Several sources close to the situation said that Zubia was frustrated by a tentative agreement struck between board members and the union representing the firefighters that would have stripped management of its power. Zubia would neither confirm nor deny the assertions, saying his loyalty to the district needed to remain intact.

However, strife between Zubia and Director Keith Grueneberg was evident, as Grueneberg said he has not spoken with Zubia since his first official day on the job, when the chief asked him to resign. Grueneberg said the chief told him he was a blockade to cinching an operational agreement with Grass Valley and should resign.

Grueneberg has been at the center of much of the controversy surrounding Consolidated Fire’s governance since Tim Fike parted ways with the district nearly 18 months ago. Grueneberg claimed that Consolidated Fire subsidized firefighting operations in both Grass Valley and Nevada City, an assertion that rankled many city officials. A deal is yet to be struck. Grass Valley City Councilman Dan Miller said negotiations where in the preliminary stages and declined to delve into any specifics regarding the process. He was the subject of an unsuccessful recall effort orchestrated by former Consolidated Fire Human Resources Director Lisa LaBarbera, who failed to collect the necessary signatures to move forward. He was accused of circulating racially insensitive material via public emails — a charge he vehemently denies.

The Nevada County Civil Grand Jury issued a report in July deemed Consolidated’s board to be “woefully short in (its) roles and responsibilties.” The grand jury said the seven-member board collectively and individually engaged in secrecy, attempting to conceal key operational and personnel decisions, along with an exhaustive list of other examples of outright malfeasance. The board failed to appropriately use its legal counsel, illegally gave firefighters retroactive step increases despite assuring the public it would not do so, illegally hired employees, signed contracts it was not authorized to sign, circulated racially insensitive material and illegally invited members of the public into closed session meetings, according to the report.

In November, the board appointed an interim chief and discussed its future finances, which projects $860,000 in arrears by the 2018-19 fiscal year if economic conditions and spending levels persist, despite a 2012 special tax measure approved by voters. Earlier this month, Grueneberg accused Grass Valley city officials of using proprietary information from the fire district without permission and recommended the board issue a letter demanding $14,000 in payment.

Utah’s Place, community’s first homeless shelter opens its doors

While Dec. 10 marked the last night in eight years that the homeless-servicing Hospitality House relied on a local church to shelter its clients, 24 hours later marked the first night the nonprofit sheltered people at its own, newly completed facility.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s something we’ve been thinking about a lot,” said Executive Director Cindy Maple.

“Our faith partners made our shelter happen.”

But even with Hospitality House opening the county’s first permanent homeless shelter, called Utah’s Place in honor of cofounder Utah Phillips, the nonprofit will still rely heavily on area churches and other faith partners to help feed and clothe guests.

“The churches have been great about stepping up until the bitter end,” Maple said.

For the last nine years, shelter services grew from winter months only to six months a year and finally to year-round coverage, all of which was accomplished by a rotation of churches taking turns hosting bused guests at night. During the days, Hospitality House would provide services to guests at its Welcome Center on South Church Street, a facility not zoned for overnight sheltering. That small building also housed the operating offices for Hospitality House’s staff with as many as three people sharing a glorified closet. Utah’s Place provides the staff with adequate, dedicated space for confidential meetings with clients.

Elephant exhibit at county fair sparks opposition

The organizers for the Nevada County Fair, scheduled for early August, thought that elephant rides would be a fun addition to this year’s theme of “Under the Big Top.”

But the board of directors’ decision to contract with Have Trunk Will Travel to provide two elephants for local children to ride generated controversy within the community, and beyond, with both those for and against the exhibit expressing their thoughts on The Union’s opinion pages, through social media and, ultimately, a protest outside the fairground gates.

A coalition of animal activists attended the board’s June meeting to express its concern, and the board agreed to hear a request to have the contract voided at its next meeting June 20. But in the end, less than a minute of silence ended with none of the fair board members making a motion to cancel the contract with Have Trunk Will Travel. One month later, board members revisited the issue and expressed their rationale for keeping the exhibit as part of the fair.

About 50 protesters gathered for the opening of the Nevada County Fair Aug. 7 in opposition to elephant rides at the fair. Others support the elephant rides and believed them to be an unparalleled opportunity to experience elephants.

“I like that they’re here. I’m glad I got a chance to see them,” said Michelle Nickerson, who rode an elephant.

Organizations involved in the opening-night protest and subsequent demonstrations include, as previously reported by The Union, the Center for Animal Protection & Education, the Coalition for Animal Welfare & Support, PAWS, Animal Place, Scooter’s Pals, AnimalSave, Rescue For Pet Sake and Chows Plus.

Deportation order for YubaNet editor canceled

YubaNet founder and editor Pascale Fusshoeller breathed a huge sigh of relief that a deportation order seeking her removal from the United States was canceled.

Fusshoeller, a native of Luxembourg, was nearly deported after an Oct. 8 arrest, when it was discovered she had been living in the United States without an appropriate visa for nearly 15 years.

YubaNet publisher, and Fusshoeller’s partner, Susan Levitz, said she married Fusshoeller in July, and the couple was in the process of getting immigration papers in order when the arrest occurred.

“Well, it’s official. We have confirmation — ICE’s order of removal against me has been canceled,” Fusshoeller wrote late Monday night on her website.

“ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion, and no enforcement action will be taken,” she continued. “In plain English, they chose to see me as a human being, not just a number. This means we can complete the application for a green card for me. ... I find it difficult to adequately express the relief, joy and thankfulness we are feeling right now.”

Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell filed four misdemeanor charges against Fusshoeller relating to a traffic stop when she allegedly ran a stop sign and was found without a license or insurance and impersonated her spouse, Susan Levitz. Fusshoeller was charged with giving a police officer false information, driving a vehicle without a license, driving without insurance and failing to stop at an intersection. Initially, California Highway Patrol Officers booked Fusshoeller on a felony charge of false impersonation, but Newell’s office elected not to pursue the felony count.

A fundraiser will be held 2-6 p.m. Jan. 5 at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. With gourmet food, a no-host bar, and music by Eleanore MacDonald and Paul Kamm as well as Achilles Wheel. Visit yaypascale.com for more information.

Undercover school drug sting draws criticism, praise

Six Nevada Union High School students were arrested April 2 on suspicion of drug sales after a three-month undercover operation.

The operation, a cooperative effort between the high school district, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, was initiated due to concerns from community members and parents regarding drug use and sales on campus, Sheriff Keith Royal said. An undercover ABC operative was placed on campus about three months ago to investigate the distribution of illegal narcotics, Royal said. The operative purchased marijuana, hashish and hallucinogenic mushrooms and negotiated the sale of Ecstasy and prescription medications.

As a result of the investigation, Sheriff’s deputies and ABC personnel descended on the NU campus at about 9 a.m. and arrested six students, five of whom are 17-year-old boys. The five juveniles were booked at juvenile hall on drug sale charges, Royal said. Forrest Cameron Good, 18, was arrested on suspicion of criminal conspiracy and transportation of a controlled substance for sale. Nearly two months later, Good faced only a court fine after the district attorney’s office filed an infraction charge.

The undercover operation drew both praise and criticism from students and the community.

Dorsey Drive Interchange construction finally begins

In January, five months after the state allocated $14.1 million to Grass Valley’s planned additional Highway 49 entrances and exits at Dorsey Drive, the city council awarded the construction bid for the $25 million project

“It’s always been important,” said Mayor Dan Miller. “It’s been a focus for regional transit since I was first on City Council in the 1980s.”

After a 25-year struggle, the groundbreaking ceremony for Dorsey Interchange was completed April 29 with construction planned to take place for an estimated two years.

The $25 million project involves the widening of the Dorsey Drive overcrossing, construction of additional highway lanes and new on- and off-ramps on Route 20/49. The interchange will provide easier access to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Sierra College and local businesses and homes. Actual construction work began on May 6.

Three weeks into construction of the interchange, the project began to show signs of things to come. “They are moving along on schedule so far,” said Senior Civil Engineer Trisha Tillotson at a Tuesday meeting of the Grass Valley City Council. During an update on the project, Tillotson noted — while knocking on wood — that no large rock formations had yet hampered the city’s largest capital project, which took a quarter of century to garner funding for and is expected to take two years to complete.

Grass Valley city administrator ‘resigns’

On Aug. 28, The Union first reported Grass Valley City Administrator Dan Holler would no longer lead the town’s executive municipal functions.

Holler’s exit was being described as a “resignation,” according to multiple sources. However, those sources also said the term was a mutually agreed upon description of a decision emanating from a closed-door meeting Aug. 27. The agenda for the council’s public meeting shows that a behind-closed-doors evaluation of Holler was scheduled — a meeting Holler said he did not attend.

It wasn’t until after the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting that Holler was summoned to a meeting with City Attorney Michael Colantuono and Mayor Dan Miller, where he was informed of the council’s evaluation, said Miller.

“There is a desire by the city council to move in a direction for which Holler sees himself as not being the best fit for the city,” officials said in a Thursday morning press release announcing Holler’s resignation. However, Miller said Thursday that Holler was not told of any future council directions, only informed of the evaluation. After five and half years of stewarding Grass Valley through an economic recession that saw more than $2 million washed from the city’s annual budget, Sept. 3 was Holler’s last day as the city administrator. Holler was hired less than a month later in the same capacity by Mammoth Lakes.

The city later revealed it had paid $81,000 severance in Holler’s resignation, and council members and city officials shared conflicting stories over the sudden resignation.

Rincon Del Rio set for spring construction

The consummation of a legal agreement between developers of the Rincon Del Rio project, Nevada County and a coalition of South County citizens in November means construction can begin on the recently approved retirement community in the spring.

Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green said the recently cinched agreement will result in “very minor modifications to the conditions for approval.”

“They wanted to clarify some of the conditions,” Barratt-Green said. “This will allow the project to proceed, so we are very pleased.”

The publicly released parts of the agreement stipulate development will be restricted to the 345 units designed to serve a maximum population of 415 residents, clustered on a 40-acre envelope located on the western portion of the property.

Keep Nevada County Rural, a group of South County citizens formed in opposition to the Rincon Del Rio project, had filed suit against Nevada County, claiming the approval of the retirement community did not conform to state law. The organization said in the complaint, which was filed May 15, that approval of the 345-unit continuing care retirement community failed “to meet the requirements of (the California Environmental Quality Act) for disclosure, analysis, mitigation of significant project impacts and/or consideration of project alternatives.”

One month earlier, after seven hours of deliberation, the Board of Supervisors approved the project.


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