Look ahead: What’s in store for Nevada County in 2018?
December 31, 2017
No doubt 2018 will see some familiar topics among headlines published on page one of The Union.
That's because several of the community's key issues still pose puzzling problems yet to be solved.
How do we embrace economic development opportunities while retaining the small-town feel we enjoy? How do we make our highways safer without compromising the pastoral scenes we cherish along our commutes?
What will be our community standards for legalized cannabis cultivation and sales?
Several of the community’s key issues still pose puzzling problems yet to be solved.
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How do we help our homeless people get back on their feet, when vacancies are rare and rent is out of reach for many?
How do we deal with climate change in terms of our water, when winters like 2016-17 seem the exception and drought conditions more the norm?
How do we protect our people from the danger of wildfires, like the October fires that destroyed 22 homes and threatened so many more?
All of these questions are sure to surface throughout the new year, as western Nevada County grapples with each topic. But here's one more:
Who will be elected to lead our efforts in finding answers to these issues?
Some changes are coming to the way we vote, at least for some of us.
Nevada County has long had a large number of vote-by-mail ballots cast, with nearly 78 percent of the 68,829 registered voters voted by mail in 2016, according to Clerk Recorder Gregory Diaz. In the new year, Nevada County will be a vote-by-mail county through and through.
Every registered Nevada County voter will receive a ballot, in the mail, 28 days before the election. Those ballots can be returned by mail or dropped off at any of the county's new Vote Centers. Instead of the previous 48 polling locations, the county will operate seven vote centers, where people can also vote in person or get assistance on voting questions.
Voters also hope to see actual choices in candidates for both Grass Valley and Nevada City city councils. In 2016, Grass Valley and Nevada City each had three seats up for election, but only the three incumbents on each council ran, meaning no election was necessary. Nevada City hasn't had enough candidates for an actual city council race in a decade, since 2008.
Among other races, one thing is certain, for the first time in 20 years, there will be a new sheriff in town. Keith Royal, who was first elected in 1998 and ran unopposed in the next four election cycles, announced his pending retirement at the end of his current term. Three candidates so far — John Foster, Shannan Moon and Bill Smethers — have announced they'll run to replace Royal.
Candidates have also come forward for county supervisor seats. Incumbent Dan Miller will seek re-election to the District 3 seat, which will also be sought by challenger Hilary Hodge who has announced her candidacy. In District 4, incumbent Hank Weston announced his retirement after serving three terms. He also announced his endorsement for Sue Hoek to replace him. So far, Hoek is the only candidate to announce for the seat.
Seats on the Nevada Irrigation District board also have candidates lined up. Bruce Herring and John Volz have announced their intentions to run for the Division 2 seat, currently held by incumbent John Drew. Ricki Heck will run for the Division 1 seat to replace incumbent Nancy Weber, who said she won't run. Division IV Director Will Morebeck's seat is also up for re-election this year.
With its Environmental Impact Report expected in late 2018, NID's controversial Centennial Reservoir project, which plans construction of a 110,000 acre-foot reservoir with a 275-foot-tall dam that would inundate six miles of the Bear River, will remain on the minds of many in western county, and beyond.
Community members have expressed concern over myriad aspects of the project, as some say it would inundate Native American cultural sites as well as sites popular with the local community who swim, hike and fish the section of the Bear River. Opponents, which include 14 groups that filed protests with the State Water Resources Control Board, also worry about the project's growth-inducing impact in the region, particularly in the Lincoln area of Placer County.
NID says the dam would help ensure necessary water storage, following our recent drought. If the new normal of climate change means a reduced snowpack in the Sierra with more rainfall running down the watershed, the project would provide needed water storage at lower elevation.
NID has spent over $11.3 million so far on the project, which according to NID officials, could cost between $400 million to $500 million, including property acquisition and the bridge construction.
The long road to new regulations on cannabis cultivation and sales stretches into 2018, nearly 18 months since voters overturned Measure W, an outdoor cultivation initiative, which would have solidified a ban imposed by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
The county's community advisory group on the topic has completed its work and has forwarded draft recommendations — including zoning restrictions for grows, grow sizes and property line setbacks — to the supervisors.
With recreational cannabis cultivation and sales legal as of today, counties are constructing ordinances for local regulation.
Nevada County's marijuana citizen's group was conflicted over aspects such as whether personal outdoor grows could be in single-family zones and what setbacks should be for commercial grows. Those issues remained two pieces of proposed recommendations on which the community advisory group couldn't agree. Pivoting to setbacks for commercial grows, the group also found no agreement.
Panelists did find agreement on parcel sizes for different grow licences with specialty commercial cultivation — 5,000 square feet/50 plants — could happen outdoors in general agricultural, exclusive agricultural, residential agricultural and forest zones, if the parcels are at least 5 acres. Two license types — specialty and specialty cottage, the latter allowing 500 square feet — could be indoors, if on at least two acres.
Those proposed recommendations, and the discussion on unresolved issues, now proceeds to the supervisors' Jan. 9 meeting for discussion.
The balance between small town quality of life and economic development will continue into 2018.
Controversial projects such as the construction of three new Dollar General stores — in Alta Sierra, Penn Valley and Rough and Ready — grew contentious. And with appeals filed on three county Planning Commission rulings filed, that debate continues into the new year.
Also expected to soon resurface is Dorsey Marketplace, a proposed residential and community center at the corner of the Golden Center Freeway and Dorsey Drive that includes 181,900 square feet of retail space, drive-through restaurants and an apartment complex. The Grass Valley Development Review Committee hosted multiple meetings on the project in 2016. A group formed under the banner "Keep Grass Valley Great" has formed in opposition. The project has been undergoing revisions and is currently in the Environmental Impact Report process, according Katy Schardt of Compass Commercial Group.
Plans for a 44,400-square-foot, four-story hotel at East Main Street and West Olympia Drive in Grass Valley also are on indefinite hold.
Meanwhile, new businesses are on the horizon, such as construction of Tractor Supply Company in Grass Valley. And the approval of Nevada City's first medical marijuana dispensary, to be operated by Elevation 2477', has led its city council to consider soon approving additional dispensaries.
Housing and homelessness
Nevada County supervisors made homelessness a priority for 2017, hiring its first housing resource manager in July and opening discussion on a year-round homeless center open all hours of the day.
"The County is taking concrete steps to make our vision a reality, and is in ongoing discussions with Hospitality House to move forward on a 24/7 multi-services homeless center," Michael Heggarty, director of the county's Health & Human Services Agency, wrote in an op-ed to The Union in May.
Brendan Phillips, hired as housing resource manager, said 24/7 means a place for people to visit during the day where they access services. Homeless people ultimately would transition from that situation into permanent housing. CEO Rick Haffey said in August, the county has also applied for a five-year, $2 million grant that would provide services to homeless people who are mentally ill or have substance abuse issues.
But some homeless advocates say the community is stumbling on the issue, pointing to an agreement made by Sierra Roots and Nevada City to open a warming — but without an available location. The Nevada City Veterans Building or the Seaman's Lodge must also be available, per the agreement. And both buildings, available for public rental, are reserved for other events most days in January and February.
"What good is it to have a memorandum of understanding for a warming shelter and it's not available?" said Pauli Halstead, a Nevada City resident.