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Daniel Ketcham: The character of our town

Daniel Ketcham | Other Voices

Grass Valley’s Historic District neighborhoods SB 9 exemption is legal… so is Nevada City’s Measure W.

Senate Bill 9 is a newly passed housing law that allows single family lots to be split into two main homes plus accessory units on each parcel. It was designed for urban areas – not small, historic mining towns. It will dramatically change the character of our town.

However, SB 9 does allow an exemption for historic districts that meet local historic, local landmark, state, or national historic designation. Nevada City qualifies for that exemption.



Grass Valley has already enacted a historic district that exempts its historic neighborhoods from SB 9 density increases. However, Nevada City is still subject to the threat of SB 9 quadrupling density on many parcels in Nevada City’s historic neighborhoods.

Measure W, the Nevada City Historic Neighborhoods District (HND), will do for Nevada City what the Grass Valley ordinance does for that fine city.



You may have heard rumors that Nevada City could be sued by the State Attorney General (AG) over Measure W if it passes. Earlier in the year, the State sued Pasadena for using its Landmarks District to exempt SB 9 projects. The AG Office originally opposed Pasadena’s landmark district ordinance as being too broad. The concerns were focused on the type of exemption being applied by Pasadena, not historic exemptions themselves. Better criteria were needed.

As a result, the Pasadena City Council updated its ordinance to provide more clarity. In response, the AG Office “applauded” the update and “hoped that the City Council would move swiftly to approve the ordinance in the days ahead.” (1)

Measure W was written by attorneys who were guided by the Pasadena ordinance. Similar to Pasadena’s ordinance approved by the Attorney General, Measure W would meet the Attorney General’s standards for SB 9 exemption, because it meets National Register of Historic Places (National Register) listing criteria. (2) It is legal. The architectural historian who surveyed the proposed Nevada City HND, noted that it is eligible for National Register listing because most of the homes are at least 50 years old, retain integrity, and meet National Register Criterion A: “are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history.” (3) In fact, 89% of the homes surveyed in the HND are older than 50 years, 71% older than WW II. (4)

Walk around these historic neighborhoods in both Nevada City and Grass Valley. They are clearly historic. The numbers and the consistency with the criteria back up this obvious fact.

Along with enjoying our classic downtown area, visitors and residents alike enjoy strolling through our beautiful neighborhoods that are known for their classic Mother Lode architecture and lovely, tree lined streets. If allowed to remain in effect, SB 9 will change the character of our town by dramatically increasing density without regard to the existing architecture and context of the neighborhoods. Our sister city, Grass Valley, had the foresight to see the value in protecting their treasury of historic houses years ago, but Nevada City remains vulnerable to the broad overreach of SB 9.

Let’s do our part and join Grass Valley in continuing to build on the hard work and success of those who came before us in protecting our unique, historic neighborhoods.

Please vote Yes on W. Visit our website at http://www.NChistoricneighborhood.com

Daniel Ketcham is a Grass Valley resident and president of the Nevada County Historical Society which is a Co-sponsor of Measure W.

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