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General plan reality check

Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” begins with the phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But if the proposed “big four” developments go through at anywhere near their proposed levels, it will definitely be the worst of times for the two cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City.

These developments collectively propose 3,560 new houses for the city of Grass Valley while the General Plan drafted by the city only allows for 648. So I’m wondering, what don’t the developers, the City Council, and the Planning Department understand about these numbers? Is this a new kind of voodoo math or sleight-of-hand trick, where 185 becomes 1,200, as the developer of Loma Rica Ranch proposes, or is it merely a blatant attempt to “dazzle ’em with brilliance and baffle ’em with you know what” in a sell the sizzle, not the steak, ploy? I hear presentations from developers that are slicker than a greased pig. They love to throw in “code words” for unbridled development like “smart growth” and “new urbanism” and lots of little amenities to make their pitch sound good. The reality of the situation is that the ramifications of the extra traffic and demands upon public services and infrastructure will have a serious negative impact upon Grass Valley, Nevada City and the county.

The comment by Phil Carville that his development will “lie lightly upon the land” really floored me. A feather or a drift of pine needles lies lightly upon the land. A 1,200-home development does not!

The people of this area and the local governments have a “written contract” that spells out how this area is going to develop … it is called the General Plan. What gives Phil Carville, the Getty Empire, or any developer the right to go and change “our” General Plan? This area, with its gold-country, foothill charm is a lot more than a fat Thanksgiving turkey to be carved up for the profit of a few developers and to fatten the government budget. Once we go down this big development road, the fat-cat profiteers and politicians will be lined up with their plans and visions for a wall-to-wall housing sprawl from here to Roseville.

Unlike Mr. Carville, I don’t see the “necessity and desirability of a development such as Loma Rica Ranch.” I always had visions of this county growing via infill houses and small developments at a reasonable pace, which would give local contractors employment and would avoid the noise, dust, and extra traffic that a huge construction project would generate. To me, growing “within our means” and sticking to our General Plan is the best way to reach the goals this community has established!

Another idea that seems quaint, yet naive, is that the residents of Loma Rica would be able to walk into town on the planned walking trails and wouldn’t have much of an impact on traffic. My question would be, “how do you lug several bags of groceries and a 50-lb. bag of dog food home without a car?” Or “what if your job is in Sacramento or the Bay Area?” That’s a long walk or bike ride! I’d believe this “walking” theory if they required every new resident to sell his or her car before moving in!

I’ve also heard the argument that more or less implies that we can “grow our way” out of traffic problems. The fact is that the county didn’t begin collecting construction mitigation fees until about 1990, which caused our road system to fall behind the demands of the extra traffic. The idea is, I think, to use the mitigation fees generated by new projects to play “catch up” with our infrastructure. This puts the cart in front of the horse and lets developers dictate which roads become freeways and how many cars we have to live with when it should be the other way around. The community should decide the size and character of our streets and how much traffic we want to deal with, and the developers will just have to live within those limits.

The bottom line is that we have just about the maximum population we can handle and still maintain our current lifestyle. That leaves us with one, and only one, chance to get this development issue right. Just as it’s impossible to put toothpaste back into the tube, if we don’t get this right the first time, all is lost, and the quality of life in this area will never be the same again.

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Richard Colombini is a longtime resident of Grass Valley, 60 years old and retired.