Jeff Pelline: Less anonymity? Yes, but discussion is worth it | TheUnion.com

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Jeff Pelline: Less anonymity? Yes, but discussion is worth it

As Eddie Albert said in the TV show “Green Acres,” “Farm living is the life for me!” Trouble is, with small-town living, once they publish your photo and column in the local paper, you lose your anonymity.

It’s doubly true when you mention the “d” word – or development.

Last Saturday, I was minding my own business on the Gold Harvest Wine Trail Trail tour (another great local event!) when a stranger walked up, looked me in the eye and said: “Did you write that column for The Union this morning?”

Busted. Only hours after my first column and mug had rolled off the presses, I’d been ID’d in a crowd – at the Lucchesi Winery, no less, with a glass of Cabernet Franc in one hand and plate of barbecued lamb in the other.

“Uhh, yes,” I said, gulping down the last bite of lamb while introducing the gentleman to my wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who were all standing next to me and wondering what other fine mess I’d gotten them into.

“How can I help you?” I said.

“I represent the Holiday Inn Express.”

Oops. The line I wrote, “One resident joked that one of Grass Valley’s ‘historic’ landmarks soon will be that Holiday Inn Express” had caught his eye. “Surprise! surprise!” as Gomer Pyle, another TV hero, would have said.

“Yes,” I explained. “That’s what some people said. I’m just holding up a mirror, not taking sides.”

I knew I was on safer ground when he added, “I’m more interested in talking to the lady who called the Holiday Inn a ‘monstrocity’ in a letter to the editor.” Phew. I wish I had her phone number in my pocket to distract him.

Turns out this man worked for the Palm Springs outfit that will manage the Holiday Inn Express. I got nervous when he tailed us to the next winery, Smith Vineyard. (Rule No. 1: Don’t alienate people in a small town).

But this was just a coincidence. Like many newspaper readers, he just wanted – and deserved – to make sure I understood his view.

His point: the Holiday Inn Express was “uniquely” designed to meld with the city’s architecture, it was approved by the city after years of discussion, it will help offset a shortage of hotel rooms – and it will bring lots of tax money and jobs to the region.

I thanked the gentleman and invited him to visit our paper and write a letter anytime. Having said that, I added that many people still don’t like driving down the highway and seeing a Holiday Inn Express blocking their view of a 150-year-old gold-rush town. It’s human nature.

It’s not a unique concern, either. The plan to relocate the DeMartini RV Sales to a former quarry site near the highway also has sparked criticism. Again, some residents complain about seeing an RV sales lot plunked in front of a palate of pine trees – not their idea of “progress.”

One wiseacre even put the DeMartini design alongside a Chuck E. Cheese’s and Sam’s Club down in the flatlands and brought the drawings to our offices. It was an attempt at the “Separated at Birth” feature from the satirical Spy Magazine, like the one you see of Chelsea Clinton next to ’60s musician Tiny Tim , or George Shultz and the cowardly lion from Oz. (Harsh!)

For his part, DeMartini argued that the design is appropriate and he received approval from the planning commission after much debate. Like the Holiday Inn Express, the new DeMartini RV Sales will bring more tax money and jobs to Grass Valley. Whether you like the design, DeMartini’s right about the other points.

In addition, Grass Valley needs to generate more sales tax revenue to offset losses from the recent shutdown of Jim Keil Chevrolet.

The concern about city planning in Grass Valley is exactly the opposite of what I hear about planning in Nevada City. As most of you know, the rap on Nevada City is that the planning commission is too restrictive – “byzantine,” according to some.

One recent example: a new Mexican joint opened near our house called Los Banditos with good food, but it was highly restricted in the signage that it could erect because of strict city ordinances. Gee, what a pro-business policy – you can open a restaurant but don’t advertise. In recent weeks, the restaurant and the city have been working on a compromise. That’s heartening to hear.

Contractors – including some of the most talented historic home remodelers anywhere – repeatedly complain about Nevada City’s building ordinances and permitting. It slows down reconstruction of homes that are falling apart and could be restored, thereby improving the city, many of them argue. Not only that, but if you renovate existing homes, you might not have to build as many new ones, a plus for “slow growth” proponents.

Nevada City officials argue they’re just trying to protect their burg’s history and who can object – at least in theory? You don’t get on the cover of Life magazine for being the No. 1 gold-rush era town for letting somebody build a “Crockers Lockers” self-storage franchise in your city.

So here’s a thought: maybe Nevada City and Grass Valley city planners should spend more time together (meet in the Holiday Inn Express conference room) and share their ideas for defining “progress.” More important, they could work on execution: you know, encouraging new growth while at the same time preserving the past. Both cities definitely could learn from each other. In the end, all us vassals and serfs would benefit.

To me, city planning around here is like the fairy tale of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” (one of my son’s favorite books). In Grass Valley, many residents think the porridge is too hot, while in Nevada City it is too cold.

By working together, maybe both cities will come closer to the day when more often than not, local residents exclaim, “Ahhh, this porridge is just right!”

In the meantime, I’m thrilled to discuss this issue or any others – on our Web site, by e-mail or “snail” mail, at our offices, at the Lucchesi Winery or wherever. Just don’t knock on the door at home when we’re sleeping, or the dog will scare the daylights out of you.

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Jeff Pelline is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays Contact him at 477-4235, jeffp@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.