Jeff Ackerman: Grass Valley’s furtive ‘friends’ |

Jeff Ackerman: Grass Valley’s furtive ‘friends’

NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) are a “societal plague.” ” New Urban News

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Such is the case with Friends of Grass Valley, the clandestine group behind this so-called “managed growth” initiative that will appear on the November ballot. If it passes, it will pretty much freeze the general plan for a half century, since that planning document is already more than 20 years old and the initiative would prevent the city from changing it for another 30.

Never mind that “growth” has been managing itself quite well these past few years (Grass Valley grew by less than a baseball team in the past year). Never mind that jobs are already scarce. Never mind that businesses are already struggling to make ends meet. Never mind that the proposed managed growth initiative will actually encourage more traffic and more urban sprawl. Never mind that some of the key people behind this initiative are from Nevada City, where their heavy-handed policies have created a terrible business climate (last I heard, there were more than a dozen businesses closing).

Just last week the Nevada City council debated the fate of a new deli, letting the owners know that they ought to consider a different décor inside and that they really ought to purchase their produce locally. It was the first I heard that government was now in charge of interior decorating and produce procurement. They’ve never been shy about crossing the line.

One of Grass Valley’s “friends” is Laurie Oberholtzer, who could be described as one of the most influential people in Nevada City politics. She’s the one who contacted The Union to inquire about a legal notice formally introducing the “managed growth” initiative for Grass Valley. I’ve always wondered where Oberholtzer gets her power, or why some shudder at the mere mention of her name. I remember seeing a copy of Nevada City’s own general plan and it was littered with her notes and edits. In fact, it seemed she had almost single-handedly written the document. I’ve also heard the stories where various project proponents were essentially told it was her way or the highway, leaving them to wonder the same thing I have: “Who died and left her in charge?”

And now she wants to do the same thing in Grass Valley, which has to make any Grass Valley resident ask, “What did we do to deserve this?”

You’d think anyone so concerned with Grass Valley’s growth would … you know … run for City Council. There are three seats up for grabs, and neither of the two visible proponents of the initiative – Grant Cattaneo and Gary Emanuel, who both live in the city limits – filed election papers. It’s a good bet that many of the others “behind the scenes” on this ill-conceived initiative didn’t file because they don’t live in Grass Valley.

All of that aside, initiative proponents are making some pretty bad assumptions. If the initiative passes, any changes to the general plan would need to be approved by voters (ballot box planning, they call it). For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that a developer with deep pockets comes to town and gets a special election on the ballot to accommodate his project. With roughly 6,500 registered voters, it would take less than 2,000 “yes” votes to get the project passed. In fact, most special elections have very low voter turnouts and a 35 percent turnout on a Grass Valley special election would bring maybe 2,275 voters to the poll. All you’d need, then, is 1,138 of them to vote yes. If you spend enough money, you can sell voters on most anything, as recent history has shown.

In fact, I’ll bet a dollar that if the Idaho-Maryland Mine reopening went to a special election, it would pass.

It’s not that I wouldn’t love all those special elections, mind you. I love a good debate. It sells papers and I assume there would be lots of advertising dollars floating around.

But this initiative is so bad on so many levels, I just can’t support it. My hope is that most Grass Valley voters will agree and vote “no” on this very bad idea. The only thing it will “manage” to do is handcuff the city’s ability to effectively manage the future of Grass Valley.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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