George Boardman: Rejection of cell tower reflects a strong sentiment in western Nevada County community
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Once again validating the observation of Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill that “All politics is local,” the Nevada County Board of Supervisors voted recently to create another impediment to the county’s effort to achieve 21st century communications.
The issue this time was a cell tower that would have served some 70 residences on Wildlife Lane. AT&T met all the requirements for the tower, and county staff recommended the supervisors approve the permit.
But at least some residents of the area said they didn’t need or want the tower, and that was enough to get the proposal rejected on a 4-1 vote. It’s easy to attribute this to NIMBYism and I’m sure it influenced some of the objections, but the protest also reflected a strong sentiment in the county for no growth at all.
Rod Covington, one of the protestors, told the supervisors he moved to Nevada County because of the beauty, clean air, and history. “I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. That sentiment is expressed in a lot of different ways in this area.
When the supervisors first signaled their intention to reject the tower, at least some people backed the action. “People live rurally to get away from this stuff,” a reader wrote on The Union’s Facebook page. “We live in a rural county, we don’t need the amenities of big cities,” wrote another. “We live close enough to big cities that if you want that service, move there.”
Every new project in the area brings out what I call the “enough” crowd. Take, for example, the proposed Dorsey Marketplace, a new shopping center a lot of people think we don’t need. Here are two comments expressed in The Union that reflect the view of many:
“So sad that our county cannot just be happy with the beauty around us, and have to continue the urban sprawl.” Wrote another reader: “So sad to see our little town grow like that … no one is ever satisfied just greed. GV used to be quiet and relaxing … Not anymore, and this is sad to me.”
I know a Nevada City resident who’s lived in the county for 50 years and would like to return to the days when half of downtown Nevada City was basically dead. Then there’s the woman whose letter to The Union a couple of years ago said (I’m paraphrasing here) she didn’t want to see one more building go up or one more tree cut down.
It’s hard to know how strong these sentiments are in the county or even if the supervisors endorse them, but the resistance to growth and progress gives our elected leaders an excuse to do either nothing or very little at a slow pace. Dynamic leadership is not their default mode.
Our lack of high-speed internet access is a classic example. Business people and others agree we should have it, but nobody has been punished politically for failing to take a leadership role and make it happen. The supervisors were content to let Spiral Internet carry the ball for several years until it finally showed it was in over its head.
Now Race Communications, which seems reluctant to communicate with the public it will hopefully be serving, is now supposed to complete the project that will give some of the county the high-speed access people crave. Everybody else? Fend for yourself.
I first wrote about this problem five years ago, suggesting the county follow the lead of other underserved communities in the country and form its own public utility to deliver the 21st century communications technology we’re going to need to thrive in the future. We haven’t progressed beyond where we were four years ago.
“No growth” may sound appealing to people who have found their personal comfort zone or want to return to a time that probably wasn’t as good as they’d like to think it was, but I wonder if they understand the consequences of such a position.
If you want to keep your children and grandchildren nearby, don’t send them away to college. There aren’t enough jobs here with an attractive career path that will make them come back after they graduate — that’s why our population is steadily getting older and our school system is shrinking before our very eyes.
Everybody is thankful we have a local institution like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, but it’s a business that has to bring in more revenue than it spends. Dr. Brian Evans, CEO and president of the hospital, recently told a group of supporters the hospital’s operating margin is a razor-thin two-tenths of one percent, about one-tenth of what the average financially healthy hospital achieves.
Evans didn’t say it, but that margin is so thin in part because the hospital treats too many Medicare and MediCal patients, and people who can’t pay at all, and not enough people covered by good medical insurance that only dynamic businesses with a strong growth path can provide. There’s nothing to prevent Sierra Nevada from joining the long list of hospitals in rural areas that have closed over the last 10 years.
The only growth that seems to be permissible around here — and even that is done reluctantly — is high-priced housing that will be bought by retirees cashing out in the state’s metropolitan areas.
That’s not a sustainable strategy for the future, but it appears to be the only one we have.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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