COVID-19 response tops government stories of 2020 | TheUnion.com
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COVID-19 response tops government stories of 2020

In a year that at times seemed to span a decade, The Union looks back at the top government stories of 2020.

1. COVID-19 RESPONSE

With the brunt of enforcing public health mandates falling to local governments, Nevada County has seen both public pushback and the community coming together in response.



In March, Nevada County governments facilities closed in-person services, marking the first notable response to the pandemic locally. Since then the government response has led to the resignation of former Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum, protests against the county, an abandoned effort to create an up to $10,000 fine for noncomplaint businesses, and a lawsuit against the state and county.

 

Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Dr. Dawn Harris smiles from under her mask as she gets the first COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday evening in Grass Valley, one of the first to receive the inoculation in Nevada County.
Elias Funez

“The economic, physiological, psychological and emotional damage we’re enduring completely outweighs any benefits we’re seeing,” Senum said of state mandates at the time.



But the response was also marked by community resilience, reflected in the efforts of local nonprofits and through the Nevada County Relief Fund, which raised close to $1 million for small businesses and nonprofits with county matching funds.

2. ELECTION 2020

Last year Nevada County voters cast their ballots four times to fill two state seats, but fatigue did not set in as the county set records for the presidential election turnout.

 

People walk up to the drive-thru ballot drop box at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City.
Elias Funez

In Grass Valley, the election brought two new members to the City Council, along with the reelection of Councilwoman Jan Arbuckle. Nevada City reelected Senum and added two new members in March, before voters returned to the polls in November to choose Senum’s replacement after she resigned. Voters also renewed Nevada City infrastructure-funding Measure M tax and approved a cannabis business tax in Grass Valley.

In a county that at times has had a dearth of local candidates, Grass Valley fielded five candidates for its election while a total of nine candidates were in the running during Nevada City’s two elections.

3. TREE PROTESTS

In an effort to limit Public Safety Power Shut-offs by reenergizing parts of downtown, PG&E instituted a vegetation management program that called for cutting more than 260 Nevada City trees. Pushback from activists led to protests, arrests, tree-sitting, a marriage proposal and eventually a deal to end the standoff.

Ultimately the county granted Nevada City funding for an undergrounding project on Broad Street, but a long-term solution for avoiding fire danger and power shutoffs remained out out grasp this year.

A tree sitter referred to as Tarzan protests PG&E's decision to cut this tree and others in Nevada City's Pioneer Cemetery.
Elias Funez

“I’d like to see undergrounding for all of these streets,” Councilman Doug Fleming said at the time. “Because we’re going to have the same issue next year on a different street.”

4. HOUSING EFFORTS

After Gov. Gavin Newsom lauded the county’s coordinated efforts to end homelessness to start the year, the county continued the work by purchasing a motel, taking advantage of state emergency housing resources, and pushing through several housing projects.

The Coach N’ Four motel will temporarily be used for people experiencing homelessness before being converted to affordable housing after two years. Other projects on the horizon include a regional housing trust fund, Brunswick Commons, Cashin’s Field, and Lone Oak developments.

“Having grown up nearby and spending as much time as I have here in the Grass Valley area, (the homelessness problem) was surprising,” Newsom said in January. “It took decades to get to this point, and I’m not naive that it’s going to take some time to turn this around.”

5. BROADBAND

In February supervisors announced awardees for the Last Mile Broadband grant, meant to bring local solutions to the lack of high-speed internet.

Nevada County Fiber Inc. was awarded $124,209 to fund the first phase in their project to bring underground fiber optics to about 25 homes and businesses in the Red Dog/Banner Quaker Hill Road area. Exwire received $52,900 to bring fixed wireless internet to about 100 customers in the Truckee area. Nearly $48,000 of the $225,000 available to fund projects was not recommended for allocation.

In July supervisors approved $1 million of the county’s $10 million state coronavirus relief fund allocation for broadband projects, and the following month chose to expedite the long-on-the-horizon Bright Fiber project.

The funding sped up the completion of Zone Two of the six zone, $27 million project, bringing high-speed internet access to 800 customers. The entire project hopes to connect 2,000 customers when completed next year.

“Before March we knew we had issues with internet connectivity in the county. Since we closed the schools in March it has exposed a huge inequality that we have here in Nevada County,” Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said in September. “In the schools we are greatly worried with students who are falling behind due to the lack of internet connectivity or the availability of hot spots.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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