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County’s outdoor event ordinance fatally flawed

Other Voices
Fran Cole

County residents have a right to expect fair treatment and transparency from governmental officials.

The county from the outset has lacked transparency and inclusiveness in its proposal to limit outdoor events.

First, the time to seek public input is before an ordinance has been proposed. Placer County spent several years seeking the input of neighborhood associations, businesses, environmental groups and other stakeholders before adopting an outdoor event ordinance in its zoning code. While the record there shows that not all groups were happy with the final proposal, they all had the opportunity to contribute. Had this ordinance been proposed as a zoning change in our county, the process would have been quite different, with public workshops and notifications. If, as the county asserts, this is not a land use issue, then why is the revised ordinance specifically limiting permits to non-residentially zoned parcels?

Second, the subcommittee formed ad hoc at the Board of Supervisors meeting is no substitute for a process where all interested parties can participate. The board chair selected individuals from the meeting audience to form the subcommittee. Later, another individual who requested to be added was allowed to join, but others who requested were denied the opportunity to participate. The local Federation of Neighborhood Associations, representing a number of homeowners’ organizations in western Nevada County, would have provided a reasonable voice on the subcommittee. The subcommittee meetings have been closed meetings not open to the public. With important economic and property rights at stake, our local government should not act exclusively and behind closed doors.

The county needs to start this process over, because from the outset this ordinance and its method of enactment have been fatally flawed.

Third, under the proposed ordinance, a private wedding, which averages 100 guests, is treated the same as a festival with thousands of public attendees, which defies common sense. Placer County’s ordinance has tiered requirements, based upon the type of event and the number of attendees, which is a rational way to regulate the vastly different impacts these event types have on neighborhoods. A commercial event open to the public has a money making purpose, and a wedding is a private celebration. They should not be treated identically.

I am very concerned about the effects of this ordinance on local businesses, as we are already hearing that events are moving to other counties that don’t have these ordinances in place. If this ordinance is so needed and is legally required, why is our county the only one proposing this type of legislation? If legally required, all counties would be enacting this type of ordinance, and they are not.

Fourth, the county asserts that the sheriff needs more tools, but nowhere have I heard the county explain what tools he currently lacks. Shouldn’t that be a rational starting point for the ordinance? If tools are needed to cover noise, safety or access problems, shouldn’t there be assurance that the ordinance is adequate to address those? Shouldn’t the tool be chiseled small enough to address those issues without causing significant negative impacts on legitimate businesses operating with neighborhood support? What is the time urgency here that throws meaningful public input and thoughtfulness out the window?

Fifth, the county has recently attacked the Nevada City Chamber’s survey of the proposed ordinance’s impact on local businesses, alleging that it is inflated. If the county wishes to attack the survey provided, it should provide its own data to prove the lesser impact of the proposed ordinance. Surely it assessed the impact of the ordinance before proposing it. If not, that is troubling on many levels.

Sixth, some nonprofit organizations are exempt from the ordinance, while others are not, and the difference in equal treatment is not explained. Charitable organizations and social welfare leagues are exempted, but others, such as chambers of commerce and agricultural organizations (including farm bureaus) are not exempt. What is the county’s rationale for distinguishing between similar types of nonprofits? Interestingly enough, campaigns are also deemed exempt from the ordinance, which should be very helpful to our elected officials.

Finally, the ordinance has been described by the county as “complaint driven,” Implicit in this is a suggestion that a legitimate property owner doesn’t need to comply with the permitting process. This creates a disrespect for our local laws, which I find objectionable on a fundamental policy level.

Hasty governmental actions without adequate public input and feedback cause bad legislation, not to mention referendums and lawsuits. The county needs to start this process over, because from the outset this ordinance and its method of enactment have been fatally flawed.

Fran Cole lives in Grass Valley.


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