In the last week, Grass Valley has been rocked by a sudden controversy over a conceptual design for a 26-acre shopping center near the Dorsey Drive Interchange, submitted to the city of Grass Valley on Jan. 30.
Opponents have claimed that the development project was the city’s ulterior motive for building the interchange, which broke ground in April of 2013 after years of debate.
Nevada County Supervisor Terry Lamphier said the situation felt “evasive” in a news report featured on Sacramento’s CBS13-TV.
Former Nevada City Council member Reinette Senum accused Grass Valley of dishonesty in the matter on social media.
Lisa Swarthout, a Grass Valley City Council member and chair of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, fired back at the end of Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
“It’s really inappropriate for other elected officials from other jurisdictions, or former elected officials, to be beating the drum and spreading a lot of lies and misinformation about what’s happening in Grass Valley,” Swarthout said.
Despite any rhetoric, Grass Valley’s city manager says the municipal process at play is highly transparent.
Bob Richardson worked for the City of Auburn for 11 years before being hired as Grass Valley’s first city manager in January.
He says that in Auburn, this phase of the development process would have been handled at staff level — without posting documents on the city website or hosting open meetings with opportunity for public comment.
“Holding an open meeting for conceptual plan review is a higher level of public transparency than most cities have,” Richardson told The Union.
Development proposals don’t typically get agendized at a public meeting until the developer files a formal application, which hasn’t happened here.
“It’s not an application yet,” Richardson said. “It’s just a conceptual plan.”
That’s why it was handled by the city’s Development Review Committee, rather than the planning commission or city council.
It’s an extra step the city uses to provide developers with constructive feedback on proposals at the earliest possible stage — before investing additional time and money in projects that are unlikely to be approved without serious revision.
“A lot of times we go through this process of conceptual application and people never come back, or they come back with a completely different project,” said Tom Last, Grass Valley’s community development director.
“They see that it may not work and they don’t move forward with a formal application.”
“Once a project becomes serious, the City of Grass Valley has a very proactive public outreach process,” Last said. “But there’s no reason to initiate that if something’s never going to become formal.”
Despite the controversy over this preliminary proposal for a possible future development, Last maintains that the City of Grass Valley does an excellent job of trying to create transparency.
“There are state laws in place to set minimum standards for public outreach and noticing,” Last said. “We go above and beyond that.”
Some criticism softens
In the days since Lamphier appeared on a Sacramento newscast, he said he’s rethought his choice in words.
“In the context of my full remarks, the term ‘evasiveness’ was to convey my experience with recent city councils of inconsistent messaging and not being completely forthcoming,” Lamphier said.
“Keep in mind the TV interview was 5-8 minutes long, of which they took a few seconds out. It was really out of context.”
Lamphier told The Union that he agreed to the interview on short notice, as the station apparently called him on their way here from Sacramento.
“In fairness, I did not start that controversy,” he said. “I was called by the news station because somebody else had started it, and they were looking for someone to talk to.”
Senum’s language has also softened, if to a lesser extent. A week ago Senum said the community had been duped and publicly thanked Grass Valley for “throwing all of the downtown mom and pop businesses under the bus.”
It’s not about wrongdoing, she said Friday, but about a disastrous process — or lack thereof.
“An interchange ALWAYS brings development,” Senum wrote in an email to The Union. “Development is inevitable and the council knew this. Omitting this information, not openly allowing pre-planning with the taxpayers that are going to foot the bill for infrastructure of unwanted development, is disingenuous.”
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, call 530-477-4230 or send emails to email@example.com.
“Once a project becomes serious, the City of Grass Valley has a very proactive public outreach process. But there’s no reason to initiate that if something’s never going to become formal.”
Grass Valley’s community development director Tom Last