Commercial events in neighborhoods: Another view
July 26, 2014
In an editorial appearing in these pages on July 19, The Union editorial board cautioned the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to "tread lightly" on the proposed outdoor event ordinance.
The central premise of the editorial was based on the tacit assumption that a multi-million dollar wedding industry otherwise could suffer "devastating" affects and consequently have a profound effect on the county's economy in general. Unfortunately, the editorial not only failed to make a clear distinction between legal and illegal wedding venues, but more important, it failed to recognize the larger universe that encompasses the responsibilities of the Board of Supervisors. It might be helpful to consider that perspective.
Contrary to the comments of some local business organization representatives and a particularly vocal, self-interested wedding coordinator, the genesis of the ordinance is not found merely in the activities of "a couple" of wedding venues that have been disturbing their neighbors. The proposed outdoor event ordinance is the result of numerous complaints about a variety of events over the past couple of years by residents who have grown weary of such things as excessive traffic, late night noise, trash and illegal fires in their neighborhoods. There's a lot more than money at stake.
However, addressing weddings alone, 80 percent of the wedding industry is fine, they are in conformance with codes and have permits, and their commercial value is not in jeopardy. What is at issue is the 20 percent that are conducting commercial events in residential areas without permits. That seems to have escaped serious discussion, particularly in terms of the 80 percent who are abiding by the rules. If the board treads too lightly on the 20 percent, what message are we sending to the 80 percent, who have done it right? They are starting to ask.
80 percent of the wedding industry is fine, they are in conformance with codes and have permits ... What is at issue is the 20 percent that are conducting commercial events in residential areas without permits.
Any consideration of activities in residential areas begins with zoning and ends with public safety. One could be forgiven for thinking that people who live in the unincorporated areas zoned for residential purposes should have a reasonable expectation of peace and privacy, free from excessive disturbances or intrusions. Consequently, conducting a commercial event in a residential area, i.e., one at which money changes hands, is a privilege not a right. To gain that privilege, which comes in the form of a Use Permit or a Conditional Use Permit, the vendor must achieve a certain threshold standard. The standard is based primarily on public health and safety codes, and applications for permits are considered on a case by case basis.
Public safety, especially the abiding threat of catastrophic wildland fire, is the over-arching consideration in unincorporated residential areas that has been conspicuously lacking its rightful prominence in the discussion of potential impacts of unpermitted activities. Whether it's a wedding or some other activity that draws large numbers of people, one of the board's major concerns along with that of the fire districts is that a substantial number of folks should get trapped up a dead-end road, or a careless person attending an event should jeopardize the safety of an entire neighborhood on a dead end road. Either occurrence or some other emergency could be universally more costly in human and economic terms than the loss of revenue associated with a particular commercial endeavor.
Weeks ago, the county offered to work with the unpermitted wedding venues to determine if they can be brought into compliance with health and safety codes and consequently gain permitted status, and I'm confident that the Board of Supervisors will continue to work to find a reasonable accommodation to the commercial interests where it can, being as flexible as it can, without compromising the residential character of neighborhoods or their safety.
Nathan H. Beason is the First District supervisor in County of Nevada. He lives in Nevada City.
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