Puzzling pass on trail donation
Nevada City purchased its picturesque backdrop of Sugar Loaf Mountain in 2011 with the intent of preserving the open space parcel for current and future residents and visitors, with plans to do some fire clearing on the property, enhancing the trail and reviewing other recreational opportunities.
The $450,000 price tag was a bargain for a piece of property considered to be worth as much as $1.2 million in 2004. But now that the city owns the land — though has yet to annex the property — the majority of its current council doesn’t seem in any hurry to improve its access for the public that essentially paid for it.
Citing “constant problems and issues” with the Hirschman’s Pond Trail, an apparent distaste for “carving up” the mountain with trails and the timing just not being right, Nevada City’s council voted 3-2 against further discussion on whether to accept a donation of $12,000 in funding and labor from the Nevada City and 49er Rotary clubs, in collaboration with the Bear Yuba Land Trust, to pay for a trail project.
Like Duane Strawser, who joined his fellow councilman Robert Bergman in voting to continue discussion on the donation, we agree that this is a decision that simply “boggles” the mind.
“This is a gift that is being offered,” Strawser said Wednesday night. “In this day and age where we have our budget stretched so thin, that somebody is offering to do something for us and not only pay for it, but also do it, is rare … I see a community coming together to offer us a beneficial project we are potentially walking away from, which boggles my mind.”
First, if Councilwoman Terri Anderson’s concerns over “problems” with the trail at Hirschman’s Pond rise to the level of not discussing the trail project on Sugar Loaf any further, perhaps she should consider the current problems already prevalent on the mountain and how such a project could help address them — like the large number of homeless camps and massive cleanup efforts they’ve regularly required over the years. As recently as March, various community groups came together to tackle tons of garbage, filling a 30-yard debris box and saving Nevada City an estimated $3,000 in clean-up costs, according to former Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham.
Because of its isolated nature, the site has hosted homeless campers and vagrants, as well as serving as a dumping ground, Wickham said.
While two Nevada City Police Department officers were surveying the area on Feb. 26, they discovered a man and a woman with needles and spoons in the act of shooting narcotics, according to dispatch and arrest logs.
“Part of the program is to clean it up and address this whole camping issue,” Wickham said. “Once people see things cleaned up and that officers are monitoring the area, people will be more inclined to use it, knowing it is no longer a haven for drug use and criminal activity.”
One could reasonably expect, as Wickham suggested, that more people populating the mountain on hikes would likely serve as a deterrent to such behavior there.
Councilwoman Jennifer Ray’s objection over “carving up” the mountain with trails seems out of touch with a community continually promoting “ecotourism” as economic opportunity. We doubt that tourists and residents consider the Buttermilk Bend, Hoyt Crossing, the Independence Trail or any other avenue for enjoying the natural “open space” environment that brought them here as an unsightly “carving up” of the mountains.
Contacted by The Union Friday, Brian Bisnett, of Bisnett Design Associates, the main organizer of the trail proposal, said he took issue with Ray’s comments.
“We’re talking about a pedestrian trail,” he said. “It is not a two-lane road cut into the mountain. It would not be visible.”
Mayor Sally Harris, who said she was “pro trail,” took issue with the “hurried” timing of the proposal due to a deadline on the disbursement of the donated funding from the Rotary clubs. She rightly said the community should have an opportunity to be part of the conversation of where the trail was located in order to ensure the project was done “just right.”
But considering there was no complete project plan put before the council Wednesday, and its members were only being gauged on “the desirability and priority of this project,” according to the staff report, we wonder why Harris was in a hurry to dismiss the donated trail project, considering there was ample time to have the kind of discussions she sought, moving forward in the months ahead as to the project’s actual details.
Finally, it’s puzzling as to why, in a city currently being operated by managers in part-time positions — due to tight budget constraints making full-time positions unaffordable — that such a donation would be turned away, especially one that Strawser said would help fulfill the exact project envisioned for Sugar Loaf upon its purchase two years ago.
Although, as City Manager David Brennan suggested, Nevada City might venture down this path again, the funding brought forth by the Rotary clubs Wednesday won’t be back on the table. Bisnett said Friday the total funding would have been closer to $15,000 and that would be matched by an equivalent value in labor and donated materials.
While this particular opportunity will instead be applied to a different western Nevada County trail associated with the Bear Yuba Land Trust, along the Yuba River, Bisnett did say Rotary members are still interested in the Sugar Loaf project and may be able to find other funding sources. “It was a little bit of a surprise,” Bisnett said. “Free money is kind of hard to turn down these days. (But) there are some municipalities that respond to pressure better than others.”
Our View represents the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.
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