North San Juan faces the future
You can’t call it a resurgence or even a groundswell yet, but a number of North San Juan area residents and merchants are slowly trying to recapture some of the town’s Gold Rush-era vitality.
Part of the quiet movement is still wrapped up in planning, specifically in the form of the advisory committee for the North San Juan Area Plan, which was approved in November 2006 by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. But another part is new and revived businesses with an attitude for more.
With only a few merchants open and almost as many dogs walking the sidewalks as humans these days, there is no dream the historic hamlet on The Ridge will ever hold 10,000 people again as it did when hydraulic gold mining was king in the 1850s.
But there is a hope and a core of dedicated citizenry convinced things can and are getting economically better. They also are encouraged that the troublemakers who have plagued town for the past few years are beginning to be reined in.
Ideas include a street beautification project, buying land for a park and – who knows? – maybe a farmer’s market.
And there is cash to make the dreams come true: $700,000 in state grants for the project, according to area Supervisor Hank Weston.
On the ground
Matt Addiego Jr. has owned the Brass Rail Tavern and the adjacent Bigley’s Market for about one year in the historic brick building – originally the town’s post office – which dominates downtown North San Juan. He used to call the authorities almost every weekend to break up disturbances, but things have been calming down lately.
He has made it clear he wants a cleaner image.
“We’re going to relicense the establishment for families to come here,” Addiego said. His father, Matt Addiego Sr., is planning to open the Ridge Runner Pizza parlor in an adjoining building, and Addiego Jr. foresees renting out more of the main building for offices.
“We’ve got lots of plans, but change comes slow,” Addiego Jr. said.
Toki’s Fountain restaurant across the street continues to do a brisk business after 36 years on Highway 49. There is talk on the street of another cafe opening.
Toki Steele said she can’t put her finger on it, but she feels change in town with new businesses on the horizon, “like the pizza place and the coffee place and the new nursery.”
Down the road at the Sweetland Garden Supply, owner and former area teacher Darlene Markey has a new and growing store.
“Business is great,” Markey said. “The Ridge is seeking small businesses to have supplies to buy here. With the price of (gasoline), it costs $7 to $10 to drive to town,” meaning Nevada City and Grass Valley.
Markey said people she talks to in the area “want a new North San Juan, not one where kids are running around and starting fights… We totally want to change it. It’s been fallow here.”
Since opening a short while ago, Markey has seen clientele from the Ridge and the nearby towns of Camptonville, Downieville and Sierra City, which tells her the market is there for sales. She also said time is starting to take care of some of those who cause trouble in town.
“They’re getting older and more responsible,” Markey said.
Sheriff Keith Royal does not have hard statistics, but phone calls from the Ridge indicate to him that things are getting better.
“We’re spending more time up there with officers on a more regular basis,” Royal said, the result of residents asking the county for more law enforcement. He will also ask for three new deputies in his upcoming budget talks with the county supervisors; two new deputies would be earmarked for North San Juan and Washington.
“The job isn’t done,” Royal said. “There’s still people racing their cars, loitering and disturbances around the bar, but we know that visibility of law enforcement impacts behavior.”
At the Sierra Superstop, manager Donna Strohbin does a brisk business for gasoline, food and refreshments. She could sell more if she had the inventory.
“I have a lot of people coming in and asking for magazines,” Strohbin said. “If we could extend our hardware, we could really do well.”
Pat Leach is on the advisory committee for the area plan and runs a racing engine parts firm with her husband on the Ridge. She thinks the time is ripe for change, but agrees it should come slowly.
“People want to go to North San Juan and have a variety of places to eat and get services from,” Leach said. About 2,500 people live on the Ridge and many others from Camptonville, Alleghany, Dobbins and Downieville come through often, according to information she collected.
Summer traffic through North San Juan on scenic Highway 49 has been counted at 10,000 vehicles per week. During tourist season, 300,000 visit the areas rivers and parks, Leach said.
“I’m not talking about overdeveloping the area,” Leach said. “But ultimately, I would like to see jobs come out of all this. That’s the big picture.
“I would like to see a friendlier place where the community can gather,” she added. “The recent history hasn’t been all that desirable.”
Leach said the Addiego’s influence in town has let people know they are not welcome to cause trouble around the old downtown buildings. At the same time, the town needs to retain its youth, and a town center or park would be a step in the right direction, she said.
Streetscape and park
The vision for a better looking downtown and an area park is already coming out of the town plan advisory committee.
Chuck Durrett of McCamant & Durrett Architects in Nevada City has drafted a preliminary plan that includes several suggestions for making North San Juan more beautiful – and even a possible destination.
Durett – who grew up in Goodyear’s Bar up the highway – envisions more trees along Highway 49 and the streets in town, more sidewalks, parking, street lights and benches. His plan also suggests a town center or plaza for gathering and a park for recreation.
District 4 Supervisor Hank Weston, the Ridge’s county supervisor, has been quietly looking for land for a park. He hopes $700,000 in state grants sought and landed by his predecessor, Robin Sutherland, and the previous board of supervisors will allow a land purchase and basic facilities for a new park that could be improved with future grants.
“We need a place for people to go,” Weston said, to play ball, picnic or simply gather.
Advisory committee member and county planning commissioner Doug Donesky has seen 20 years of stagnation on The Ridge and thinks residents need to take the future into their hands with Durrett’s vision as a starting point.
“I would like to see that vision refined into a controlled plan for improvements,” Donesky said. He is interested in Durrett’s town center concept and a monument on Highway 49 to announce the town and slow traffic.
“Improvements can be done, but these things grind slowly,” Donesky said. “We have to take our time.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@the union.com or call 477-4237.
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Opinion Page A5
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