Wednesday night, the Nevada City Council approved most of the items on a master list of 65 requests for street closures over the coming year — excluding two out of three requests to close Commercial Street for Farm to Table dinners.
The council recently declined to take action on a street closure request from local activists affiliated with the March Against Monsanto. While it was not a denial, technically speaking, the request was not approved, either.
Council members expressed concerns about closing streets for political causes and the precedent that might set.
In the end, March Against Monsanto’s request sparked a broader conversation about the high volume of street closures in Nevada City and the possibility that there may be too many of them.
With more than 60 closures in one year, that’s upward of one per week. It also means that Nevada City plans to close down one or more streets for roughly 17 percent of the days this year.
More than half of those closures are related to the farmers markets and Friday night social affairs staged by Treats on York Street, and nearly all of them were approved. However, two events were pulled from the master list to be discussed separately.
The Nevada City Classic, an annual bike race currently in its 54th year, was discussed and approved separately from the other requests to accommodate Councilman Duane Strawser.
Strawser recused himself from that part of the meeting to avoid a conflict of interest since his business, the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop, is actively involved in the event.
The Farm to Table dinners were also pulled from the master list.
After one successful event last year, organizer Reinette Senum hoped to stage three in 2014. Council members did approve one request to close Commercial Street for a Farm to Table dinner on Aug. 10 but advised Senum to find another venue for the other two.
“I guess I’m wondering if anyone else thinks it’s excessive to go with three?” asked Council member Terri Andersen.
“We’re feeling like we’re maxing (out) a little bit.”
It was also suggested that Senum consider using Pioneer Park or one of the city’s other outdoor gathering spaces.
“It sounds like a great event, I’m just not sure that it’s fair to have three street closures for this,” said council member Jennifer Ray. “It seems like maybe a different venue that doesn’t involve a street closure might be more appropriate for that event.”
The Farm to Table dinners were also criticized as Nevada City’s only public event with an associated road closure that sells tickets, which are required for individuals who wish to eat the meal.
Council members Robert Bergman and Duane Strawser both spoke favorably of allowing Senum to produce all three, but it was clear from the discussion that they did not have enough votes to pass such a resolution.
Afterward Senum told The Union that she was disappointed in the meeting’s outcome and that she felt like the Farm to Table events had been politicized.
Wednesday night’s meeting also covered issues pertaining to lighting for special events.
Lighting became a point of controversy during the political battle over the Commercial Street boardwalk. After last year’s Farm to Table dinner, overhead lighting that was put in place for the event remained in place until April of this year.
“The word carnival has been used,” said Mayor Sally Harris
“It does feel like that. I don’t think that’s what this should be,” Harris added.
Council members suggested that in the future, lighting for any special event might have to be removed within 24 hours of the event’s conclusion.
It was also suggested that in order to preserve the special nature of Nevada City’s annual Victorian Christmas, Christmas-style lights should be avoided.
“Whatever’s done, it’s got to come down within 24 hours of the event,” Harris said.
“I don’t think it should be a string of lights unless it’s giving visitors a better sense of our architecture.”
Council members directed city staff to come back with recommendations for a set of guidelines for special-event lighting, as well as how to handle requests for additional street closures in the future. That issue is expected to be on the agenda in June.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, send emails to email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.