Area business leaders are reacting to a new survey showing a $15 million to $30 million loss to the Nevada County economy if a proposed ordinance regulating outside events is adopted.
The ordinance, postponed for adoption until July 22 while citizens and county staff work on revisions, would require all for-profit outside events — such as weddings — at private venues in residential neighborhoods obtain a temporary permit, limited to four a year.
As proposed, the ordinance would wipe out many local “mom and pop” businesses that depend on the tourism and wedding industry for their livelihood, said those involved in the revisions — including event venues, hotels, restaurants, hairdressers, photographers, musicians, cleaners, caterers and many other businesses.
“We’re concerned about it because this affects the businesses of our members,” said Cathy Whittlesey, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber. “The wedding business is huge.”
Keith Davies, executive director of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he also is “concerned for my members.”
“I’m optimistic that Nevada County supervisors will reconsider plans to adopt the ordinance as proposed, now that the board is aware of the impact,” Davies said.
Davies said the chamber has known for a long time how important the weddings and events industry is to Nevada County tourism and the economy.
“The county is first or second to Napa Valley in weddings,” he said. “The setting here is beautiful, it’s more economically reasonable than Napa and the weather is good.”
Davies said he understands how the push for the ordinance started — with two venues that were causing problems.
“We know that there were at least two properties that were not operating the way they should and not considerate of neighbors and were generating a lot of calls to the supervisors,” he said. “We understand why the supervisors reacted the way they did.
“But now that they have all the facts, we’re optimistic they will be able to rewrite it in a way that supports everyone involved.”
The telephone survey, prepared by Nevada City Chamber of Commerce President-Elect Paul Sieving, queried all known wedding venues in western Nevada County. The response rate was 50 percent, he said in a copy of the survey results obtained by The Union.
Sieving said the respondents estimated that there are an average of at least 300 weddings a year in Nevada County, averaging 100 guests each.
Given an estimated $30,000 spent on each wedding itself and an average of $300 spent per guest in lodging, food and other costs, the total spent per wedding is about $60,000, the survey estimates.
“With 300 weddings, the total comes to $18 million,” the survey says. “And this is likely just a slice of impacted outdoor events that would be required to obtain a permit or drastically reduce their business.”
According to the survey, 30 to 50 percent of weddings “are conducted at venues that do not currently require any sort of permit,” such as a private estate.
“It is estimated that if permits become required as specified in the ordinance, our local economy will suffer a loss of between $15 million and $30 million,” the survey states.
The survey questions whether existing laws might be enough to handle the two or three problem venues so that the whole industry doesn’t have to suffer because of a few inconsiderate properties.
Some of the participants said they think the county should scrap the existing ordinance, which was initially created to handle large festivals, and start over with a weddings-oriented regulation.
“Whatever we can do to slow the train down and work together for everyone’s benefit, we should do,” said Katherine Doolittle, co-proprietor of Emma Nevada House bed-and-breakfast in Nevada City.
“We really want to work with the supervisors. We realize it was a big surprise to them that this whole business existed.”
Jon Gregory, head of the county’s Economic Resource Council, could not be reached for comment. Sources said the county contributes more than $100,000 annually to the ERC for tourism promotion.
“Perhaps Nevada County board of supervisors ought to ask ERC to check the math (in the survey)?” the survey states.
“Actually, this sort of economic impact report ought to be performed for all new laws, ordinances, regulations or ordinances that affect business.”
The next meeting of the citizens subcommittee that is working with county officials on the ordinance rewrite will be 1 p.m., Thursday, at the county’s Rood administration building in Nevada City.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.