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Terry Lamphier: Climate problems hit home

Terry Lamphier | Other Voices

Full disclosure: I believe that recent dramatically accelerating climate changes are real and dangerous and I support attempts to mitigate effects. That said, new state housing legislation and proposed local fire mitigation taxes that directly or indirectly fight climate change are flawed or are in conflict in ways that harm us.

In November, Nevada County voters will be asked to support a general tax increase that, if passed, is intended to mitigate local fire danger, danger that is being greatly exacerbated by on-going climate change. Who would be against that?

The problem lies in the process, not the potential outcome. Adopting Grass Valley’s strategy of promoting a “general” tax increase for “dedicated” purposes, with promises of oversight, bypasses established legislative process. Legally, general taxes can be used for anything. Grass Valley wanted a tax increase for specific uses but couldn’t pull the 66% of votes needed to pass a dedicated tax, so they resorted to a general tax (50% plus one vote) to get what they wanted, with promises of robust oversight.

To my knowledge, GV’s “citizen” oversight process never included direct citizen workshops, public hearings or disclosures as to how funds were being prioritized and used. This is a problem that colors the proposed county measure. “Yes” voters will be cementing a strategy that trends toward the normalization — a whiff — of the unconstitutional idea of taxation without representation.

Proponents argue that our electeds and their delegates will represent us in overseeing the process — but would they have won office campaigning on creatively interpreting and expanding taxation powers — the rules? Is this the new norm?

David Bromwich, writing for “The Nation,” comments on the phenomenon of changing rules: “The word ‘rules’ implies that the relevant privileges, limitations, and exclusions are written down somewhere, but of course they are not – a gap that has led clever people to substitute the word ‘norms.’”

So is the new norm to be to that it’s OK to sidestep established process because the ends justify the means? The only legitimate justification for this is that it is now necessary as the fire situation has grown dire. Has it?

If so, then local leaders need to take seriously the advisability of building yet more housing in our fire-endangered community. You can’t simultaneously support loosely regulated legislation to fight fire danger while simultaneously promoting policies that increase fire danger.

Regarding the latter, the state has passed climate-change legislation that is arguably too narrow, in that it fails to recognize that one size does not fit all. I refer to recent state housing zoning regulations that mandate increased density (this alternative reduces climate impacts of resource-hungry housing development sprawl). Density is good for meeting climate goals, but at what cost for our fire-endangered (and tourist dependent) rural communities?

Density policies may work fine for urban areas and for protecting farmlands and open space, but such policies fail to recognize that increasing housing density in rural high fire-endangered cities with antiquated infrastructure and inadequate evacuation options only increases our risk.

Nevada City’s ballot measure’s attempt to have some local control over density makes sense seen in this light. If it were successfully promoted as such, it could eventually encourage state legislators to modify its well-meaning, but arguably draconian, legislation that currently fails to recognize significant potential harms for rural forested communities.

Eventually, state Attorney General Rob Bonta will have to resolve this conflict as he is tasked with enforcing the new housing density rules while he has simultaneously been joining lawsuits against housing development proposals that don’t adequately address fire danger.

More challenges: What are rural residents to do when future storms knock out electric power to houses mandated to be all electric? How will homeowners heat their homes, cook and recharge autos and communication devices?

Can existing power lines and distribution centers safely handle higher loads? Will climate change make the Centennial Dam an inevitability or will it face the same challenge now threatening the proposed Sites Reservoir – not enough water availability?

The situation is dire if, to have enough electricity, we are forced to continue using Diablo’s aging nuclear plant adjoining earthquake faults — risking loss of our Central Valley’s farm lands.

Well meaning climate and housing legislation may be necessary, but bypassing normal processes and passing simplistic and indiscriminate mandates that create hardships will alienate some rural voters at the very time we need support by all.

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley


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