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Nevada City Council to consider Historic Neighborhoods District

By Tom Durkin
Special to The Union

Proponents for the creation of a Historic Neighborhoods District will make their case before the Nevada City City Council on Wednesday night.

Opponents of the controversial proposal are also expected to address the council.

“I expect the discussion to be lively,” said Councilmember Adam Kline, who had no further comment in advance of Wednesday’s session.

The council is “obligated” to take one of four actions, said City Manager Sean Grayson. The council could do any of the following:

  1. Adopt the measure as proposed
  2. Put the measure on the ballot for the next general election on Nov. 8
  3. Decide to hold a special election
  4. Refer the proposal for study

If the matter is referred for study, the results of the study must be delivered to the council within 30 days, Grayson said. The study would be paid for by the city, he added.

The proposal

Known formally as the “Nevada City Historic Neighborhoods Initiative,” the measure would amend the city’s General Plan to designate a portion of Nevada City as a Historic Neighborhoods District (HND).

“The HND is intended to protect the historic character of the residential neighborhoods surrounding downtown,” according to the summary of the proposal. “… Additionally, the Measure would add language to the General Plan that requires an architectural review permit for alterations of the buildings within the HND.”

“We would love for the council to approve it August 10th,” said Daniel Ketcham, a leading backer of the initiative. He conceded, however, that is not a likely outcome.

He said he will urge the council to vote to put the initiative on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

“We want the citizens to make the decision,” said Ketcham.

In an email Friday afternoon, Mayor Doug Fleming appeared to agree.

“That’s where this initiative should be decided … at the ballot box,” said Fleming. “As Mayor, I personally don’t believe that the council should unilaterally make decisions like this that impact a resident’s property rights without significant input from those impacted.”

Senate Bill 9

Although the 27-page HND initiative does not mention it, opponents of the measure claim it is designed to block the implementation of Senate Bill 9, the new state law to increase housing availability.

Entitled the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act, SB 9 took effect Jan. 1. It is intended to help alleviate the housing crisis many California cities face. A lack of affordable housing is considered a major factor in the state’s homeless crisis.

California YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), a nonprofit housing reform organization, said SB 9 makes two major changes to state law.

  • “It allows homeowners in most areas around the state to divide their property into two lots, thereby increasing opportunities for homeownership in their neighborhood; and
  • It allows two homes to be built on each of those lots, with the effect of legalizing fourplexes in areas that previously only allowed one home,” the organization said.


Homeowner Pauline Halstead is an outspoken critic of the HND proposal. She claimed even if the HND is passed by voters, “it would violate state law, thus exposing the city to litigation with the state.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has created a Housing Strike Force to enforce compliance with SB 9. The strike force has already initiated actions to dissuade communities ranging from the city of Pasadena to the secluded town of Woodside from passing ordinances designed to circumvent SB 9.

Halstead also suggested if the HND is implemented, it could be construed as a “taking” (a violation of the Fifth Amendment) of homeowners’ property rights because of the architectural review restrictions on property improvements.

Halstead further protested, “The process by which this Initiative came into being happened behind closed doors with city staff and the city attorney out of public knowledge.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer in Nevada County and a member of The Union Editorial Board. He may be contacted at tjdurkin3@gmail.com or http://www.tomdurkin-media.net.

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