Our view: County should tread lightly on outdoor events ordinance
July 25, 2014
As a subcommittee continues its work on amendments of a proposed Nevada County Outdoor Events Ordinance, community members are sharing their concerns on the potential impact to both the bottom line of their businesses and the local economy at large.
Supporters of the ordinance say it's necessary to deal with disputes in residential areas where "good neighbor" policies to outdoor events aren't always practiced. One instance on American Ranch Court Road, where large weddings were allegedly being booked for profit, has resulted in a lawsuit between neighbors.
Board of Supervisors Chair Nate Beason said in an interview this week on KNCO 830-AM radio, the ordinance originated with Sheriff Keith Royal, who wasn't sure he had "enough authority" to deal with issues that arise with outdoor events, such as large parties or festivals.
"The idea was to tighten this thing up so he could protect the neighborhoods," Beason told Tom Fitzsimmons and Hollie Grimaldi-Flores, co-hosts of KNCO's afternoon Fitzsimmons and Flores talk show.
"We weren't even thinking about weddings," Beason said. "We were thinking about disturbances in neighborhoods. And then all the sudden this so-called underground wedding industry popped up — and I'm not so sure it's quite as big as some people say. There are a lot of numbers being thrown around. … Well, I'd like to see the math."
Some attempted to share estimates on how that industry impacts western Nevada County's economy earlier this week. Donna Hoekstra, founder of Joy of Life Events and http://www.NCWeds.com member wrote to The Union that, as written, the ordinance would have a "devastating" impact. She said a survey of known wedding venues in western county showed an estimated average of 500 weddings a year with a market value of $14 million in direct spending on weddings.
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Beason acknowledged that although many venues that host weddings are already permitted, there are an unknown number that are not. And, he added, though there is a "horizontal industry" that coincides with weddings, people are overreacting to the potential impact of the ordinance.
That horizontal industry includes everything from florists to caterers, from restaurants to hotels, all the way down to the gas pumped into cars as wedding guests head out of town — as well as the impact of a potential return to western Nevada County as tourists.
The concerns being shared have not been limited to people profiting from unpermitted weddings or other events. Steve Rosenthal, owner of Tess' Kitchen and a member of the Grass Valley Downtown Association board, shared the concern of the GVDA over the impact to the overall economy.
"With every event there is not only revenue coming in for the venue operator, but also for the hotels that the guests stay at and the restaurants where they will eat," Rosenthal wrote. "People who come to the area will also most likely shop in our stores and hopefully they will fall in love with our beautiful town and come back to visit in the future. Some may even decide to relocate here."
Nevada City Chamber of Commerce President Valerie Moberg wrote in a letter to the editor that the community is estimated to reap as much as $50 million or more annually from the wedding industry. And the executive directors of both the Nevada City and Greater Grass Valley chambers told The Union this week that their members echo such concern for what is at stake.
"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."
"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," said Greater Grass Valley Chamber Director Keith Davies said.
One of the key sticking points for those voicing their concerns is the limiting of four weddings annually for non-permitted venues, which according to Nevada County Community Development Director Steve DeCamp was a "generous" gesture considering they would otherwise not be allowed to host as a "for profit" event without a permit.
DeCamp said property owners who want to hold more than four events may apply for a conditional use permit, which would grant the ongoing right to use their property as a site for weddings or other events.
The caveat is, however, that to qualify for a conditional use permit, state law says a property must have at least two access roads, have proper sanitation services (porta-potties don't count) and potable water, DeCamp said.
Beason noted in May, when the ordinance was first publicly proposed, that it would be complaint-driven. But in comparison with the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance, which also sets limits on what is considered legal use of property owners' land — and is now the subject of local ballot measure this November — opponents say the Outdoor Events Ordinance negatively impacts land owners — and local business — by limiting use of their property for four weddings, regardless of whether complaints have been filed.
Dealing with problem properties on a case-by-case basis seems to be a more appropriate avenue to address issues as they arise, rather than an across-the-board blanket regulation that restricts the amount of revenue a property owner — or those along the "horizontal industry" adding to the county's coffers — can potentially pocket in a complaint-free manner.
We are encouraged by Nevada County's supervisors delaying a vote on the ordinance in May to address the concerns shared through the work of the subcommittee — although gauging how fruitful such discussion has been largely depends on which member of the subcommittee you ask.
When the ordinance is brought forward for a vote — Beason suggested an early August return — we are hopeful our supervisors will have heard and addressed concerns being shared on this new regulation. Because, regardless of how the math actually does add up, many members of the community — residents and business owners alike — are making it loud and clear that there is a substantial segment of our still- struggling local economy at stake.
Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.