As western Nevada County says farewell to 2013, many of the story lines that blossomed during the previous year will continue to develop into 2014 and beyond.
As the United States persists in a widespread economic recovery that has accelerated in pace in the coastal areas of California, rural areas such as Nevada County continue to grapple with a difficult transition away from the traditional resource extraction industries to a more modern and diversified economic approach.
How public officials and regional business leaders collaborate to foster a more productive economy for the foothills communities will be the number one story to keep track of in 2014.
1. Economic development — When leaders talk about the problems facing Nevada County, a lack of jobs and industries to support them are a large part of the conversation. The problem is one that touches all corners of our county.
Without jobs, there are no families building homes. Without a strong real estate market, property taxes wane and governments’ revenues decline, which in turn impacts their ability to maintain roads and fund public safety measures such as firefighting and law enforcement.
But as the new year opens, Nevada County has a couple of promising projects local leaders hope will foster economic development.
Grass Valley has several endeavors. The first is the annexation of Berriman Ranch and the old Bear River Mill sites that straddle Highway 49 along the city’s southern border and have industrial and retail potential. In March, the city allocated $100,000 toward annexing those two lots of land.
Already, the San Rafael-based development firm Campus Properties LLC submitted plans in December for a 34-acre portion of the old mill site for light industrial purposes, something city leaders have said is in short supply, forcing growing small businesses to relocate elsewhere.
On the north side of Highway 49 is Berriman Ranch, which has been eyed as a potential location for a large retail store. A 2013 city survey found Grass Valley residents want a Target, Ross, Marshalls and Kohl’s stores and are spending more than $200 million at such stores in other communities annually — a sizable leakage of sales tax monies.
Also underway is the $25 million construction of Highway 49 on- and off-ramps at Dorsey Drive. While this project is largely touted as providing easier access to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, it also has the potential to positively impact Loma Rica Ranch, a percolating development in the city’s eastern boundary.
The interchange project is reportedly staying on schedule for its fall 2014 completion. When those roads start getting more of the highway’s traffic, it potentially makes a large swath of land abutting the southern intersection of Dorsey Drive and Highway 49 more attractive for development. That land is owned by Russell Jeter, a Washington resident.
Further south, expect 2014 to bring with it the developers of the Rincon Del Rio project. As mentioned in Tuesday’s “Top stories we’ll remember from 2013,” construction on the retirement community can begin in the spring. Also expected to begin development is the commercial Higgins Marketplace project near the intersection of Highway 49 and Wolf/Combie roads in South County.
2. Fire service — Competent fire service in a geographical area susceptible to catastrophic wildfire is paramount. In the wake of the Rim Fire, the largest wildland fire in the history of California, fire officials in western Nevada County have talked openly about finding solutions to maintaining levels of service to constituents in an era of dwindling revenues.
One of the solutions being bandied about is consolidating many of the individual fire districts into a county-wide fire agency, which would cut down on administrative costs and ensure more collaboration. Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, Penn Valley Fire Protection District and Grass Valley Fire Department are currently without permanent fire chiefs, presenting an unprecedented opportunity for officials to explore joining together disparate districts that already rely on support agreements for survival.
Whether officials can set aside political squabbling and personality friction to cement a deal will be a huge story line for the coming year.
3. The drought — Unless a caravan of storm systems marches across the sky over Northern California, the region is on the cusp of a historically devastating drought.
The implications are widespread — as every household may have to conform to mandatory water conservation orders, water agencies will curtail water allotments to agricultural and livestock operations, and the outdoor recreation industry that provides jobs to the region will be hard pressed to justify keeping staffing levels steady.
While the undeniable economic implications are both comprehensive and severe, the threats to the environment are equally disquieting. The summer of 2013 witnessed an enormous amount of wildland fires, several of which were catastrophic in their size and intensity. With a third consecutive dry year becoming increasingly likely, a devastating 2014 fire season looms.
Other more subtle ecological consequences come with drought, including a weakened forest more susceptible to disease. Whether California must battle the ramifications of persistent aridity or narrowly averts a crisis situation will make news in 2014.
4. Medical marijuana — Like it or not, western Nevada County has been a center of medical marijuana grow operations for decades. The legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 meant the erstwhile clandestine industry blossomed to the point where many in the community believe marijuana is the most viable and fiscally productive cash crop in the region.
While the medical community increasingly recognizes the efficacy of cannabis in certain treatment situations and the nation as a whole inches toward acceptance of marijuana as a recreational drug, adverse effects have cropped up in the community.
Some grow operations are devastating to the environment, compromising water quality, poisoning wildlife and encroaching on public lands. Violence has emanated from grow operations, as robberies of grow operations occur regularly. Finally, many residents dislike living in proximity to the plants that pack a pungent odor.
In reaction, Nevada County passed a nuisance ordinance regulating cultivation of the plant in unincorporated areas. Medical marijuana advocates accused the government of overreach and appear poised to place a revised ordinance in front of voters early in 2014. How the community continues to organize itself in relation to medical marijuana will continue to be an important story for residents of western Nevada County.
5. The election — By this time next year, the political landscape of Nevada County could be dramatically different. Election season begins as soon as the calendar turns to 2014, and a number of very prominent local offices are up for grabs.
Two Nevada County Board of Supervisors seats — District 3, which encompasses Grass Valley, and District 4, which contains North San Juan, the Ridge and Penn Valley — already have candidates lining up to vie with incumbents. Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal must run, District Attorney Cliff Newell’s seat will also be open to qualified candidates, Greg Diaz has announced he will defend his seat as clerk recorder/registrar of voters, and the three financial elected seats will also be open.
Marcia Salter, Sue Horne and Tina Vernon will be up for election in the offices of auditor-controller, assessor and treasurer-tax collector, respectively.
The term of Holly Hermansen, Nevada County superintendent of schools, will expire in 2014. Also, according to previous reports, the six-year terms of Nevada County Superior Court judges Sean P. Dowling and Linda J. Sloven are set to expire in 2014.
The primary election is slated for June 5, 2014, and all the aforementioned seats and offices will be on the ballot.