Residents tell Nevada City Council to ‘Lighten Up’
November 6, 2014
Activists took to the streets of Nevada City Wednesday night with signs, lights and at least one guitar to tell the City Council to "lighten up."
The event was part parade and part protest, and it drew dozens of people to Robinson Plaza after dark.
The parade route went up to the top of Commercial Street, then back down Broad Street to Robinson Plaza.
The event was organized in response to a recent 4-1 vote asking businesses in the downtown area to turn off their Christmas lights from Jan. 15 to Nov. 15.
Despite the outcome of that vote, the majority of public speakers at that meeting urged the City Council to leave the lights alone.
Council members argued that leaving the lights on year round diminished the special nature of the holiday season, and the town's Victorian Christmas.
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Several downtown business owners have said that would hurt their bottom line, and some have declined to voluntarily comply with the council's wishes
"The basic desire is to show that our town is open for business," said Matt Margulies, owner of Matteo's Public, during a brief speech just before the parade began. "We welcome people, we welcome you. That's what we're doing here. "
Reinette Senum said she expected a political backlash in 2016. She also urged people to consider running for office themselves.
"We need representation, and we need people who will sit in these positions and actually listen to us," Senum said. "That's what these lights are about. We want to be heard, and we want to light up."
Robert Bergman appeared to be the only council member present for the Lighten Up parade.
He also addressed the crowd, saying he understood the position of local business owners concerned that turning off the Christmas lights makes the town look like it's not open for business.
He argued that it's time for the city to hire a lighting specialist and come up with a plan to increase the ambient lighting levels downtown after dark using permanent lighting fixtures.
"It's going to be OK," Bergman said. "Lights will be on, but they're going to be nice looking ones. You're not forgotten or ignored."
Business owner David Iorns criticized the council for disregarding the will of the majority.
"The majority of the people want the lights on," Iorns said. "I think it either becomes a voting issue or a recall. One or the other."
Iorns also expressed concern that despite the successful turnout at Wednesday night's parade, it might not have any affect on the council.
"I think they're going to pay attention, but it isn't going to do any good," Iorns said. "They're not going to change their stance."
Jai Hanes and Dean Morris, both from out of the area, were watching nearby as the parade ended.
They expressed a positive sentiment about the Christmas lights – regardless of whether or not they're supposed to be on this time of year.
"I think the lights are beautiful," Hanes said. "It's an amazing thing. This is a small town, and the lights give it an enhancement — definitely a touch of culture and wholesomeness."
"For myself as a consumer, someone probably looking to shop, it gives a sense of warmth and community," Morris added. "It seems like everyone's on the same page, and it's a good feeling."
Law enforcement officers on-scene estimated the initial size of the crowd at roughly 50 people, but more joined in along the parade route.
By the time the parade was over there were 80 to 100 people involved.
Mayor Terri Andersen was not present at Wednesday night's parade, but she did contact The Union to express her position on the matter.
"It's hard for me to gauge where most people are coming from that are involved in the parade, mostly because I think there is misinformation out there," Anderson said. "I'm hearing people thinking this is a whole new policy where we're turning off lights and banning things."
Andersen said the holiday lighting policy has been in place since the early 1990s, and that the council is merely trying to gain compliance with that policy.
"It's only been in maybe the last two to five years that the residents and council members and city staff are noticing that people are starting to lag behind a little bit in turning things off," Andersen said. "It was creating a sort of haphazard tacky look for them to be on in certain places and off in others."
Businesses in the downtown area are authorized to turn on holiday lighting on Nov. 15.
The issue of special lighting is likely to come back before the City Council in 2015.
To contact Staff Writer Dave Brooksher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.