Nevada County’s top government stories of 2019 | TheUnion.com
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Nevada County’s top government stories of 2019

John Orona
Staff Writer
Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum listens to the grievances brought forth by fellow Councilwoman Erin Minett regarding her conduct as a representative of the city during a December Nevada City Council meeting. The council chose not to take any action against her following a lengthy public comment period.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

The slow, grinding mechanics of government can often feel too distant and divorced from everyday consideration to impact our lives.

But with local government tasked with taking on telecoms, coming up with cannabis compliance codes and ensuring internet access, over the past year Nevada County governing agencies have flexed their influence.

Here are the Top 5 government stories of 2019:

1) RACE INTERNET

In January, the California Public Utilities Commission approved Race Telecommunications’ purchase of Bright Fiber Network, the company that in December 2015 was granted $16 million in government funding to bring a gigabit internet connection to Nevada County. After receiving the grant funding, Nevada County-based Bright Fiber was unable to secure the remaining private funding for the $27 million project which would bring fiber to 1,941 western Nevada County households along Highway 174. Race’s purchase allowed the project to finally move forward, with completion slated for May 2020, and mandated to be completed through the grant funding by January 2021.

“It’s been a 10-year journey to arrive at the point where construction can finally begin on this transformational gigabit fiber project in an area of rural Nevada County, where broadband internet access is severely limited,” said John Paul, originator of the Bright Fiber project, in Race’s release.

2) COUNTY CANNABIS ORDINANCE

Three and a half years after a ban on outdoor marijuana growing was proposed, Nevada County in May approved an urgency ordinance allowing grows of five or more acres. The battle between the county and growers was sparked when the proposed ban was made into a June 2016 ballot measure that failed to pass. The ban’s rejection forced supervisors to look toward new grow rules, creating a community advisory group that over several months formed the basis of the county’s new ordinance. That was followed by more tweaks to the county’s cannabis rules, again after wrangling between the community and county over off-site processing.

“We got ourselves in this position by not wanting to move forward on all the licenses that were clearly, obviously going to be needed once we agreed to allow growing in this county,” Supervisor Heidi Hall said. “Very clearly we’re going to have to look at the ordinance next year to fix things we did too quickly, fix things we didn’t know was going to come up because it’s our first time.”

3) ELECTIONS

This year, Nevada County voters went to the polls four times to fill two state seats. In March, voters winnowed a five-person field for the District 1 state Senate seat down to then state Assemblyman Brian Dahle and Rocklin’s Kevin Kiley, before choosing Dahle in a June runoff election. Dahle’s Assembly seat was then left vacant, setting up an Aug. 27 race to find his replacement. That August race narrowed the field to Megan Dahle, Brian Dahle’s wife, and Democrat Elizabeth Betancourt. Mean Dahle won the election and Betancourt said she will run again in the upcoming March primary.

“Nevada County is probably the one county that we’ve not been able to spend a lot of time in, but we’re looking forward to changing that,” Dahle said. “I think that’s just one of the places that’s going to get to know me better. I will work hard for them and they’ll feel my representation in their lives.”

4) NEVADA CITY 5G REGULATIONS

After initially creating an ordinance to regulate 5G wireless telecom facilities in the public right-of-way in February, Nevada City’s attempts to create an ordinance regulating telecom facilities in public spaces led to year-long frustrations that may not be over, even with an ordinance now in place.

Since then, the city has tried to create a moratorium on 5G installation, strengthen regulations against telecom facilities despite the advice of its lawyers and has been home to crowded council meetings whenever 5G regulation is on the agenda. The difficulty has affected relations among council members and between the council and staff, with attempts to relieve tensions leading the city to plan an apparent violation of the Brown Act. The issue went so far as to threaten the removal of Mayor Reinette Senum’s title, and although that was avoided, the council and members of the public have expressed interest in continuing to strengthen the ordinance.

“The last six months people are wondering what’s going on, why has the public gotten so loud and boisterous? It’s because they’re frustrated and I’m frustrated because of the process,” Senum said. “Overall I think this has been a learning experience for all of us, I think it’s going to be really good for us ultimately.”

5) HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENTS

In 2019, highway safety issues polarized Nevada County. Community members vocally opposed the planned widening project slated for a two-mile stretch of Highway 174, claiming it would ruin the scenic route and would do little to actually improve safety. Despite community push back, the $28 million project initiated by Caltrans following three highway deaths between 2009 and 2011 will go forward with some minor concessions and is expected to break ground this coming summer.

Conversely, on Highway 49, a community-initiated safety project will add stops — either roundabouts or warning lights and crosswalks — where Uren Street, Coyote Street, Maidu Avenue and Cement Hill Road intersect with the highway. The changes come following the 2017 death of a South Lake Tahoe man and community requests in 2018.

“One of the things I really like about this is that people have the opportunity to see what this project would look like,” Supervisor Ed Scofield said. “I wonder why haven’t they done this on some of their other projects? Why didn’t they do this for Highway 174, where the public could really have had an input before they even began to implement it?”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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