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Affordable housing nothing but a fairy tale

What a great article by Mike Thornton about “Poor Town” in the Jan. 31 issue of The Union. But here is the rest of the story:

It was not Mr. Scrooge, money-hungry developer, who decided to implement a real poor town but Mr. S. Claus, who wanted to donate his time, his good name and make no profit as his gift to the deserving hard-working young families in Nevada County. He was going to create a thousand affordable homes and apartments near Grass Valley, and he hoped this would in time become a model as to how to solve the affordable housing problem in California.



Selecting a large property near Grass Valley, Mr. S. Claus visited the planning department to share his noble plan and dream. However, the planner said it could not be done because something like this had never been done before and, also, the property was not correctly zoned. In addition, NH 2020 had identified his property as a potentially environmentally sensitive site and recommended he wait until the next general plan update, which would be in another five years.




Not wanting to be deterred from his noble plan, Mr. Claus took the necessary papers with an estimate that it would take about two years to do the environmental impact reports, design work and all the work that the consultants would have to do before the first public hearing. Mr. Claus hired the best engineers, planners and consultants.

A year later and $2 million poorer, Mr. Claus’ first public date arrived. To his dismay, the transportation department wanted a new freeway interchange built and an expressway built to the project because all local roads were already overly impacted. He was told that Caltrans estimated it will take 10 years before design work, EIR preparation, right of way acquisition, public hearings and construction could be completed. As the developer, he would have to pay for all costs.

The local school district wanted land set aside for a new school and $10 million to build it, because statistics show that young families have 2.5 children and that equates to 2,500 new students. Mr. Claus protested that his project is for families who already live here, but his appeal fell on deaf ears because he could not guarantee that no families living outside Nevada County would move in.

The fire department wanted a new fire station and insisted that because of the high density, all living units would have automatic sprinklers for public safety. NID wanted the developer to build a new water treatment plant and storage tanks as their current system does not have enough capacity. Grass Valley wanted a new sewer treatment plant constructed along with enlarged sewer mains to handle the increased sewage flow, and the site would have to be annexed into the city. The county was opposed as it does not want to lose the tax revenue.

The planning department wanted 80 percent open space as the site was environmentally sensitive and, in addition, it wanted the developer to buy additional land in some other part of the county as permanent open space, so as to mitigate the damage the project would do to the local ecosystem. A neighbor protested that the people living in poor town would trespass onto his property so he wanted to have a 10-foot high block wall built of a Gold Rush design, so as to protect his property. Another neighbor protested that the project would disrupt the historical deer migration trails and the proposed block wall his neighbor wanted would only compound the problem. He was also going to sue because the EIR is totally inadequate. Another neighbor complained that the project would destroy his view and claimed it is the only lower elevation nesting place for the spotted owl. The RQC was opposed because it wants to maintain our rural quality lifestyle and the project would just further urbanize the area. The Sierra Club was opposed as its goal is to gradually remove all population from the west slope of the Sierras so it will someday revert back to the pristine, unspoiled paradise it was before Europeans arrived.

S. Claus protested that all the conditions imposed would drive the cost per living unit to over $350,000. A sharp rebuke came from the audience – that it was as they had suspected all along. The project was just a ploy to enable him to build more upscale homes and to further expand his current December 24 business!

In case you haven’t figured it out or are from Rio Linda, in my opinion, the prospect of significant affordable housing in Nevada County is a fairy tale, just like Santa Claus.

Willard Schoellerman lives in the Higgins Corner area.


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