No one will likely argue whether times are tough, but there are new community friendly job opportunities in the areas of food production, high tech and possibly energy coming to our county in the very near future.
After attending a local “food rights” town hall meeting in Nevada City and later a more formal presentation at Lundberg Farms (near Oroville), I became aware of a very strong community interest in the “food freedom” movement, a loose affiliation of farmers and consumers whose goal was to reduce regulatory oversight of food production and sales.
Through these folks, I learned of Assembly Bill 1616, aimed at easing food production regulations, and I enthusiastically supported efforts here and in Sacramento to pass the bill. Now signed by the governor, it will allow folks to produce certain foods in home kitchens for sale, greatly expanding opportunities for small, home-based businesses. Specifics still need to be hammered out, but Nevada County is working with Butte County to establish implementation in the near future.
On the high-tech front, work is going forward on expanding high-speed Internet services to our county, a challenge due to the combination of low-population density and the physical nature of our rural area. Broadband Internet is widely recognized as an essential business tool with great potential to expand economic development, both for home-based businesses and existing high-tech firms, and is the No. 1 need for local businesses, as recently affirmed by an Economic Resource Council survey.
Echoing federal and state goals, our Nevada County Board of Supervisors considers broadband expansion a top priority and recently unanimously endorsed a local vendor’s grant proposal. Meanwhile, another local Internet vendor has received more than $2 million in funding and is working toward expanding service. Finally, trenching has begun to bring a major new mainline to Nevada County from the Central Valley.
A local group, the Nevada County Broadband Advisory Group (a working group, including myself and other elected officials and staff, representatives from Sierra College and our high school, a community activist and local Internet vendors) recently co-hosted a Broadband Expo. The goal of the educational expo at the state-of-the-art Nevada Union High School multi-purpose room (complete with ultra high-speed computer hookups) was to inform the public as to current options (and vendors) and near-future developments. Going forward, our group intends to identify ways to facilitate broadband expansion, including examining regulatory and other challenges.
On the energy front, I added my support for the recently passed AB 1900 bio-gas bill, reducing regulations on allowing bio-gas usage from sewer plants, large farms and landfills for power. Our landfill, for instance, currently burns off methane bio-gas 24-7 as waste. While McCourtney quantities are not considered great enough to use for offsite power, there may be scalable power production options for on-site recovery and use.
Truckee’s sewer plant currently utilizes sewer gases to supplement on-site power needs, but I plan to examine our west county sewer plants to see what, if any, opportunities exist. For example, there may be potential in the Penn Valley/Lake Wildwood region as proposals go forth for capital improvements at the constrained Penn Valley plant. Sewer gas recovery reduces disposal costs and increases potential local energy production.
Other, albeit controversial, near-term possibilities for local job expansion include the Dorsey freeway interchange, which would open up more areas for development but is currently awaiting a decision by the state as to the status of nearly $5 million in bonds, and two large development projects, the Loma Rica mixed-use development and the proposed Rincon Del Rio senior living development.
Local groups and public officials continue to explore ideas for enhancing the local economy, including reducing regulatory burdens while protecting public safety and values. For example, there is recognition of a need to clarify up-front planning and permitting procedures and timing (thumbs up or down) before a developer invests large amounts of time and money in a project proposal.
Our county is on track for enhanced economic activities in the very near future.
Meanwhile, continue to shop local. This supports living wages for family businesses (versus “big box” minimum wage) and the tax revenue supports our police, fire and other important services.
Terry Lamphier is a Nevada County supervisor in District 3.