Mike Zimmerman: Preserving our uniqueness | TheUnion.com

Mike Zimmerman: Preserving our uniqueness

Other Voices
Mike Zimmerman

When our daughter told us it was time to move here, we dreaded having to face a place exhibiting the poor zoning/planning (or lack of same) represented by North Auburn.

(This was especially true since I had participated as a volunteer in land use planning. This made the shock of North Auburn more trying.)

We were delighted to find ourselves here as part of an unusually diverse and unique culture. Our three-part economic unit (Nevada City, Grass Valley, and surrounding area) harbors permanent (e.g., art studios) and transitory (e.g., horse and bicycle races, craft shows, etc.) venues. Most varied affairs either start on or are based on Mill and Main streets in Grass Valley, on Broad and Commercial streets in Nevada City, or at the County Fairgrounds. There is also the Community Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, and the local live theater and the Miners Foundry in Nevada City.

Sprinkled throughout are many distinctive restaurants, wine bars, breweries, etc. which often serve as venues for other types of artistic events. The June 15 issue of The Union highlighted a local talented photographer. My wife and I like live concert music. We found some of the best we have seen and heard right here. While this area often has to import talent for specific events, this is not hard to do. As a famous bluegrass singer recently told a writer, “I love everything about it. The fans are so attentive and knowledgeable and it is such a beautiful place. That is what makes me want to come back.”

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We need the Dorsey Marketplace as much as we need a hole in our collective heads.

All of this is in addition to outstanding outdoor activities and scenes — forested trails, lakes, rivers and streams, both wild and usable, in our environs.

But it is more than just “fun and games.” We take care of our own. Take, for example, the homeless. (A local columnist told me that only about 3% of the homeless served by volunteers here are not originally local.) While there are many other free or volunteer services and friendly “gestures,” one that comes to mind while I write this, is local dentists periodically providing basic services free to our residents. Besides the article on the front page of The Union highlighting a local talented photographer, it also mentioned two different free summer food bank programs for local children, one of which uses 10-12 volunteers

Can we keep our unique culture alive? It will be hard — very hard — but if we are successful, it will be well worth it.

We have to connect in the minds of our leaders, the existence of our unique culture and other actions taken by or for us. This is not easy. As example, the very same issue of The Union included an editorial praising the proposed Dorsey Marketplace and suggesting this development could be a positive by keeping some tax dollars here. We must remember we are concerned about our way of life, not money. If we are successful in keeping our exciting unique culture here and it is marketed properly, much more of the down-the-hill money will flow up-the-hill than the Dorsey Marketplace can provide.

We need the Dorsey Marketplace as much as we need a hole in our collective heads.

There is much to do and it needs appropriate leadership. I suggest to help save our culture, we form a three-party (Nevada City, Grass Valley and surrounding area) “cultural” committee representing all in this common effort. This committee can promote various actions it believes should be taken to maintain the unique and diverse culture we have.

Because of its immediacy, appropriate zoning should be the first priority. We need the affordable long-term housing required to keep those responsible for this unique culture here. (We should also discourage the typical bedroom/retirement developments, and mall construction developments pursued by developers because it is more lucrative for them.)

The committee should promote a variety (not necessarily on the same site) of affordable housing. While I am not an expert, I do know there is clustering, co-housing, duplexes, triplexes, apartments, shared wall condos, etc. A common denominator is less site preparation cost to be passed onto the individual living units — a common denominator of all can be a focus on providing attractive, low-cost living spaces.

Zoning (and its enforcement) is generally controlled by local government. The bottom part of this government organization is probably the most important part. It is the planning director and his or her staff. In most situations, he or she is the one who faces the developer at the beginning of the process and often must be particularly hard-nosed. Once the planning director is satisfied, a recommendation is made to the planning commission. If one affected by this zoning decision is unhappy, it can be appealed to the City Council or County Board of Supervisors.

We should also have short-term housing for those visitors who come to enjoy our culture. This may require some changing of our existing zoning.

We should also have effective screening zoning, the purpose of which will be to screen our communities from others traveling 49 and other main arteries, and to direct our commercial establishments to sell their wares and services to us not the passersby. This type of zoning is hard to explain and enforce. An example of bad zoning (or lack of any zoning) is that which is at the junction of Alta Sierra Drive and Highway 49. An example of good screening zoning is the entrance into the Grass Valley Mobile Home Park right next to such junction. The best screening is natural — dirt and trees.

While appropriate zoning as discussed is important to maintaining our culture, it isn’t everything.

Again we have to foster the correct ”state of mind” in all of our leaders and opinion makers to assure our unique culture is maintained now and in the future.

Because of age and other infirmities, I will not be able to implement the above. Let’s hope someone else steps into the breach and is successful. The first step is getting the culture committee formed. I hope if someone does pick up the ball, they contact me — I have a few more ideas.

Good luck! Preserving our unique culture for all of us is worth it!

Mike Zimmerman is a retired attorney who lives in Grass Valley. Contact him at mz@sonic.net.

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