‘Vagrant issues’ discussion gets hot in Grass Valley (VIDEO) | TheUnion.com

‘Vagrant issues’ discussion gets hot in Grass Valley (VIDEO)

Community members gave their public comments during a Grass Valley City Council study session on vagrant issues Tuesday before the regularly scheduled council meeting.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

Tensions were high inside the Grass Valley City Council Chambers Tuesday night during a special study session and community discussion hosted by the council, which, according to the meeting’s agenda, was dedicated to “vagrant issues in parks and unimproved areas of the city” and “vagrants parking and camping on public and private land.”

Nearly every seat was filled during the one-and-a-half hour session, which was scheduled before the city council’s regular meeting Tuesday night. Despite objections from Mayor Howard Levine, members of the audience clapped, cheered, booed and shared opinions from their seats during a number of public speeches.

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard and Fire Chief Mark Buttron attended the meeting and addressed the need for more vegetation management enforcement in the city in order to reduce the fire risks associated with numerous homeless camps, among other issues.

The council and Gammelgard discussed one public speaker’s concern about the perception of poor customer service from 911 dispatchers. Gammelgard said his department doesn’t have control over the service given by dispatchers because it uses the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center. The discussion continued among the chief and council members, who were discussing possible ways to improve the issue, before it was interrupted by an audience member.

“We’re just pulling the information. If you guys can provide us what you’re seeing and make sure we have the data, then the data will say something different. But, regardless, we hear what people are saying, and we want to make a difference.”— Alex GammelgardGrass Valley police chief

“If I could interrupt, are we running out the clock?” said Colleen Foltz.

Mayor Levine said the council was “having a discussion.”

“Just give us a minute, okay?” he said.

When public comment continued, some speakers said the council members weren’t meeting the mark for their elected positions.

“There needs to be accountability for those that are elected officials,” said Nevada County resident Lauren Hayes. “At this point, you guys are boogering it up. You really are. And I’m sorry to say that, because I was born and raised in this town. I love this town.”

Vice Mayor Lisa Swarthout asked Hayes to clarify what she meant by accountability.

“What does that look like to you?” Swarthout said.

Hayes said she wanted the council to give the public more time to speak. She also said she wanted more action from council members.

“I heard a lot of talk and not a lot of go,” Hayes said. “That’s the accountability.”

Foltz threatened not to vote for council members when re-election time comes.

“We vote, and we’ve got your names,” Foltz said. “So the little thing we did eating up the clock earlier — your names are noted. We remember you come election time, like it or not. I’m sorry, but we’re done, and we’re asking you to do something, or else we’ll vote in people who will.”

Audience members clapped when Foltz left the podium.

Other speakers echoed concerns that have been repeatedly expressed during the public comment periods of recent council meetings regarding a perceived increase in crime and suspicious activity in Grass Valley.

“It’s amazing the stuff we’re allowing to go on in the park,” said Grass Valley resident Matthew Holter, who said he can see Memorial Park from a window in his house.

Grass Valley resident Michelle Rose said she’s considering moving out of the area because of the crime she sees happening around her.

“This isn’t just a perceived crime increase, sir,” she said, addressing Gammelgard. “This is real. This is absolutely real.”

Gammelgard told The Union last month that local statistics show the number of reported crimes in Grass Valley hasn’t increased over the past five years.

“I just pulled data out of the computer system,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting, adding that he thinks Grass Valley, his hometown, looks and feels different than it did in the past.

“We’re just pulling the information. If you guys can provide us what you’re seeing and make sure we have the data, then the data will say something different. But, regardless, we hear what people are saying, and we want to make a difference,” Gammelgard said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.

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