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Council candidates: Four campaign for 2 seats on Nevada City Council

Candidates for Nevada City Council didn’t disagree on much at a forum this week, though they did differentiate themselves in the details — each having an individual approach to addressing some of the city’s crucial concerns.

Preserving the Art Moderne design of the Nevada County Courthouse in its current location kicked off the Thursday forum, sponsored by the League of Woman Voters of Western Nevada County.

The four candidates are Lou Ceci, Adam Kline, Ken Merdinger and incumbent Erin Minett. Two seats are up for election. Incumbent Duane Strawser isn’t running for reelection.



Merdinger, a former high school and college level teacher, led off the proceeding on whether to retain the courthouse in its present downtown location.

“I’d love to see it remain downtown, but I think we need to look at all options,” he said. “Maybe a hybrid model, but it has to fit within the budget. How would I do it? I’d consult the people, we must have their input.”



Ceci, a software designer and small publishing company owner, said the courthouse is a symbol of Nevada City’s commitment to equity and justice, and to lose it would be a disaster economically and to the spirit of the town.

“To some extent, the decision is out of our hands. The Judicial Council of California is going to make the decision,” he said. “But we can flood them with emails, or what I do — write on my blog or on social media.”

The courthouse also serves as an economic anchor, said Kline, singer/songwriter with the Golden Shoulders band and a former retail business owner.

“Visitors to the courthouse also visit our shops afterwards,” Kline said. “Let’s send letters and do everything possible to keep it here. We can’t afford another ghost building, especially the courthouse.”

Minett said losing the courthouse would be devastating to downtown.

“It brings people to town every week, but it wouldn’t make us a ghost town if it moved to Coyote Street, which is a possibility,” she said. “Let the state know because the state owns it and it’s their decision.”

COMMERCIAL STREET

Declaring Commercial Street a city icon, Ceci called the block the mother lode of architecture.

“It speaks of our historic origins as a mining town,” he added “Let’s keep the look of the community as much as possible. Granite curbs look right for the era. It’s a good move for businesses on Commercial Street.”

Previously working and living on the block, Kline said it was an issue close to his heart.

“The wider sidewalks are great for gathering and it looks like it’s going to be beautiful. I think it’s only good,” he said.

Minett also praised the 10-foot sidewalks for accommodating outdoor dining tables and allowing pedestrians to pass.

“We’re putting in bollards because a lot of people wanted the street completely shut down 24/7,” she said. “But that doesn’t work. My suggestion — close it down at 5 p.m. Friday and open it up 5 p.m. Sunday.

Added Merdinger: “But, hopefully, include some sort of seating area. I’d like to see more infrastructure improvements in town, what would be appropriate and what to do for renovation.”

The League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County held a forum for the four Nevada City Council candidates. The candidates, from left, are Erin Minett, Ken Merdinger, Lou Ceci and Adam Kline.
John Hart

ALPHA BUILDING

Another historic landmark, the Alpha Building, received a unanimous boost from the candidates.

Kline said a lot of smart people have been grappling with ideas for the building for a decade.

”There’s some great ideas, including artists-in-studio residences, upscale restaurant, a series of shop stalls where owners exhibit their wares,” he said. “I’d like to see it facilitated in the next four years because it’s been empty too long and it’s the first thing people see on their way into downtown.”

Minett agreed, saying the building is falling apart.

“But let’s get the owners to sell or have them develop it,” she said. “Four years ago I thought, yeah, let’s do it, but that’s not the way it works. We talk, encourage and then get somebody to apply and go through the Planning Commission process.”

Merdinger suggested small restaurants or maybe a joint venture for the building.

Ceci said it looked more like a theater venue.

”But it’s not something the city can do itself,” he said. “Small shops by day and performance space, evenings.”

TREES AND GROWTH

As to the density of the trees in the area, an attendee asked if it were wiser to do major clearance for fire safety.

Minett said the largest risk to the city is fire danger, adding that the city has already removed many trees, though much work remains.

Merdinger said that where he previously lived, in a Firewise community, people went door-to-door to ask residents what they could do to help make property fire safe.

Ceci gave kudos to the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.

“But we need a communitywide fire protection plan,” he said. “We can cut all the vegetation we want, but if the trees go, the town goes. But we can hire a grant writer to get funds to finish a community wildfire protection plan.”

Added Kline: “The Sugarloaf Mountain Trail is a big concern and that’s public property, the city’s responsibility. We’ve got to work with the community to clean up our own properties. That’s priority number one.”

Candidates were also asked what level of housing growth they could support.

“We have our fair share of affordable housing and are ahead of other cities and counties,” Ceci said. “We’re behind on moderate housing. Let’s stick with a plan that develops our city in a reasonably orderly way that doesn’t exceed our capacity of water, sewer and parking.”

Kline said that while campaigning for council, he noticed a considerable number of empty homes.

“This can’t just be a fun vacation spot for wealthy people who come to second homes,” he said. “People want starter homes for young families, or European-style with retail on the ground floor and apartments on top. No one size fits all. We need a variety and encourage that kind of growth.”

Minett praised the Cashin’s Field project, adding that some proposals that looked good on paper never got built.

“So we need an ordinance so more affordable, workforce housing is built in the city,” she said. “And not just in historic downtown, but Seven Hills has land where housing can be built.”

Merdinger, a housing advocate with the group House, Empower and Lift People, said he was working on plans for small houses and cottages that can sell for $149,000, affordable to a working couple.

“Loma Rica is starting at $400,000,” he said. “What we need are joint ventures like the Brunswick Commons. The county bought the land. They worked it out with Hospitality House.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Candidates fielded questions ranging from the Nevada County Courthouse to Commercial Street.
John Hart

 

Nevada County attorney Steven Munkelt moderated the Nevada City Council forum.
John Hart

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