How do we keep that hometown charm? | TheUnion.com
Brittany Retherford

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How do we keep that hometown charm?

This story has been corrected since it was first published.

Major traffic improvements such as the Dorsey Drive interchange might still be a ways off for Grass Valley, but residents are talking now about how to keep the quality of life high and full of charm in this rural mountain town.

Ideas emerged following presentations made by a panelist of traffic experts during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening. Mayor Gerard Tassone roved around the chambers with microphone in hand, “Donahue-style,” sharing thoughts and fielding suggestions. Numerous questions were also submitted by people unable to attend and the latter part of the meeting was dedicated to answering these, which were mostly about specific projects.

Among those who showed, however, many rallied around the idea of finding out-of-the box solutions instead of relying on the millions of dollars that isn’t even in the city and county coffers for proposed improvements.

For several residents, a change of attitude from designing streets for cars to designing for foot and bike travel is the key.

“I think we have a wonderful city and we have great charm and we have to be careful we don’t ruin it. If we design for pedestrians and bicycles, we will get pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Phil Carville, developer of the proposed Loma Rica project.

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This means truly understanding the implications of certain types of improvements, which may be great for cars, but tough on those on foot or bike, some said. For example, many of the proposed projects include plans to widen sections of streets or highways – such as a plan to widen a mile-long strip of Highway 49 around La Barr Meadows Road – and which may not always be pedestrian-friendly.

“(One of the things) I don’t see is stepping way back and more or less taking your eyes out of focus and seeing what widening does to the quality of life on those streets. When you widen a street, you don’t necessarily want to live on that street anymore. How do you make those improvements, but not be deleterious to the quality of life?” said another county resident, Chuck Durrett, who is an expert on cohousing-style living.

He also later asked whether the city had a vision on traffic, which it doesn’t, according to the mayor.

Former city councilman Steve Enos challenged the current council to take a walk from the Reibe’s Auto Parts on Idaho-Maryland Road to the Staples in the Glenbrook basin.

“There are areas where there is absolutely no shoulder, you have to cross the road three different times. Experience what it’s like, do something (for the) pedestrians,” he said. Enos also called the traffic situation in downtown like a “duck arcade” for those who walk.

But not all residents agree that traffic is even a problem, which could make it easier to put cars last and people first.

“I’d like to make the point that nobody seems to be recognizing that we don’t really have much of a traffic problem here, our roads work fine 23-hours a day. I’d like to suggest we have a conversation (about) lowering our expectations,” said builder Keoni Allen. Allen did agree with keeping streets slimmer, however, saying “(the current traffic situation) is part of the charm of our city, we will lose the value of our city if we widen the streets.”

Others, such as Howard Levine, the executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, is trying to take a proactive approach keeping the beloved charm.

“In the early months of next year we hope to launch a couple programs to use the Gold Country Stage and increase the ridership. One of the great things about downtown was that it was built for not having cars and that is why we love it. I would hope that we move to finding a different way of moving people around,” he said.

This comes as good news to the transportation experts, who have limited funds with which to make any improvements in the county.

“I am in a box, I have to work with the dollars that I have,” said Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, which is involved with several Grass Valley projects. The total price tag for all current proposed improvements is $17 million, with the Dorsey Drive interchange project eating up a huge lump of that. But with no money coming in from the state the past few years because of a budget crisis, the burden rests mostly on Nevada County taxpayers.

Landon said the commission is currently exploring the possibility of implementing a sales tax to raise money for traffic solutions and will be looking to the public for feedback on whether that is something they’d be willing to pay for.

Ultimately, no decisions were made Tuesday evening, but many expressed thanks for the feedback.

“The ability for people to walk around Grass Valley wherever it may be is very important. Keep coming to these meetings and keep telling us what you want to see in Grass Valley,” said Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout.

To contact staff writer Brittany Retherford, e-mail brittanyr@theunion.com or call 477-4247.