More than a year after its implementation, Nevada City’s police chief recommends removal of the Commercial Street Boardwalk, citing it as a challenge to keep free of disturbances.
“The benefit versus the time officers need to monitor the boardwalk exceeds the resources that we are able to provide, even with a part-time foot patrol officer,” said Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham in a report to the city council, which will review the Boardwalk at its meeting today.
Additionally, City Planner Cindy Siegfried has indicated that if the boardwalk is to remain, it will require approval of a formal environmental review pursuant to the California Air Quality Act (CEQA), despite an initial exemption.
The boardwalk is a 50-foot, by 8-foot wooden deck-like extension on the south side of Commercial Street’s sidewalk that occupies three parking spaces.
Constructed in August 2011 by the Nevada County Sustainability Team, the Boardwalk features benches, planter boxes and a railing to keep people out of traffic. Its goal was to create more public space, alleviate congestion on the narrow sidewalk and encourage residents and visitors to shop on Commercial Street.
Public perception of the boardwalk has been starkly divided.
“Comments range from hoping the boardwalk becomes permanent to requesting that it be removed or relocated,” Siegfried wrote in her comments to the council.
Those sentiments were echoed on The Union’s Facebook page, where nearly a dozen people’s comments largely fell into those two camps.
“I hate it so much!” posted someone using the name Mellisa Hannum on The Union’s Facebook page. “It’s such a deterrent to going down there, what with all of the drug deals, menacing types, and smoke blowing into the stores.”
Other comments cited more room on the sidewalk and a welcoming, small-town feel.
“I love the area as a great addition. There should be more patrol in the area to reduce the drug deals,” posted someone using the name Josh A. Faria. “Other than that it makes for a warm town feel and should be kept.”
At the end of the first six months, the sustainability team surveyed business owners. The majority of the concerns related to behavior concerns, such as smoking, drug use, loud music and other vagrancy issues, rather than land-use issues such as affecting parking and traffic.
Since then, the city has expanded its smoking ordinance to include all public streets and sidewalks, including the boardwalk.
“The same issues we are addressing at Pioneer Park occur at the boardwalk,” said Wickham, who recommends the structure be removed in winter months and re-installed and re-evaluated in spring.
With one bar right next to the boardwalk (Cooper’s) and another anticipated (Crazy Horse Saloon) across the street, Wickham said the boardwalk will continue to pose a challenge.
As a temporary two-year pilot project, the boardwalk was initially exempted from CEQA to allow the experiment time to collect data and monitor for unanticipated costs.
To date, the only city costs associated with the boardwalk have involved staff time, such as the planner’s and public works personnel.
If the city garners a negative declaration from any environmental review, the associated filing fee will be more than $2,200, Siegfried noted. That process can take more than six months to complete.
“That’s not a good enough excuse to not go forward,” said Reinette Senum, a former councilwoman and a Sustainability Team member. “If we have to, we’ll do a fundraiser.”
In September 2011, the three parking meters next to the parking spaces the boardwalk occupies were approved to be used as donation collectors to fund maintenance of the project. At least $225 has been collected from those meters, according to Siegfried.
Since the conclusion of the second six-month period in September, the sustainability team conducted a second survey.
Senum characterized the overall response of the second survey as positive, with decreased offensive language and behavior amid increased visits to Commercial Street.
“Despite some rough comments from a few businesses, most of the sentiment from the survey is really, really positive,” Senum said.
Wickham notes that despite the challenges the boardwalk poses to law enforcement, if the project is supported by the public, its ultimate continuance is a decision for the council.
“There are no deal-breakers I’ve seen so far,” Senum said. “Everything that goes on there has a solution.”
Council is set to review the project, as well as a camping and lodging ordinance aimed largely at the city’s homeless residents, beginning at 6:15 p.m. today, at Nevada City Hall, located at 317 Broad Street.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.