Sharon Boivin, instrumental county planner and environmental advocate, dies at 78 |

Sharon Boivin, instrumental county planner and environmental advocate, dies at 78

John Orona
Staff Writer
Sharon Boivin
Submitted by Paul Matson

Probably without even realizing it, anyone who has spent time in Nevada County has felt the impact of Sharon Boivin.

Whether they’ve enjoyed the county’s natural charm that she pushed to preserve through environmental advocacy and planning or benefitted from the women-led leadership she helped inspire and has become a staple of Nevada County, Boivin left a legacy both monumental and somehow subtle, in keeping with her style, according to people who knew her well.

The former county planning director, who served the county in various capacities from 1973 to 1995 and was still active in environmental causes to her last days, died Feb. 12. She was 78.

Like many long-time residents, she quickly fell in love with the county after her family moved here from Los Angeles in the 1960s and threw herself into myriad causes to help preserve the balance between nature and community that she was passionate about.

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“When she became a county planner, I think it really became her life’s work to protect what we have in Nevada County,” long-time friend and environmental consultant Laurie Oberholtzer said. “I think that’s just who she was, she loved the beauty of the county.”

The two grew closer when Boivin was working on the county’s General Plan update in the 1990s, and was instrumental in ushering in environmental and zoning protections into the document, Oberholtzer said.

During that time, several environmentalists got together and formed a group called the Rural Quality Coalition to ensure their concerns were heard. Boivin worked closely with the group.

“Sharon was one of the leaders of that group and as the years progressed she was a leader to many, many environmental groups and all of the neighborhood associations in the county whenever they had any sort of issue,” Oberholtzer said. “She helped shape a generation — a couple generations actually — of environmental advocates in Nevada County, which is something that we’re really known for.”

Boivin received activism awards from the Rural Quality Coalition, the Sierra Club and was recognized for her work by Grass Valley, which gave her the key to the city in 2008. Because of her expertise in environmental causes, planning, zoning and the California Environmental Quality Act, she advised organizations like the Banner Mountain Neighborhood Association, the Audobon Society and the South Yuba River Citizen’s League.

In her work on the General Plan update, she was crucial in bringing constituents together and emphasized zoning in the development of the county, and keeping the over 500 people working on the update in various committees abreast of all the pertinent planning issues.

“She was instrumental. Her job was to explain what the General Plan was and why it was important,” said Peter Van Zant, who worked on the update and later became a county supervisor. “She was very generous with her time and very gracious.”

Boivin even had a policy of educating new county supervisors and board members on various governing agencies about the intricacies of the planning code, which Van Zant was subject to.

“It’s detailed, it’s obscure and it’s bureaucratic, but she was an ace at it,” Van Zant said.

According to Van Zant, a prominent quality that made her invaluable in county leadership, and as a friend, was her ability to always speak her mind in a way that was direct yet gracious.

It’s a trait that made her effective as a leader while maintaining her sweet, polite and caring demeanor, Oberholtzer said.

“She was a very gentle force, but a force to be reckoned with,” Oberholtzer said. “I believe she was one of the most influential people in Nevada County over the last 35 or 40 years.”

It’s an approach she advocated to others and what made her effective above all else.

“For decades, Nevada County has had lots and lots of women involved in community leadership, and I would say she was one of the pioneers who led us forward on that path,” Oberholtzer said. “She told many of us we would be more effective if we whisper and not shout.”

Boivin is survived by her husband Joe, brother Dennis Mahaffey of Nevada City, niece Michele Mahaffey Walker of Nevada City, and step-daughter Sheila Boivin of Grass Valley, according to her obituary.

Her celebration of life ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hooper & Weaver Mortuary with a reception to follow.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email or call 530-477-4229.

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