Terry Lamphier: What are they thinking? | TheUnion.com

Terry Lamphier: What are they thinking?

As if living in one of the most dangerous fire-threatened areas in the western United States is not enough, Nevada County residents now have to contend with increasingly dire water shortages, the natural result of an ever-hotter and drier climate.

Local government response? The usual: Raise rates and penalties rather than seek reduction of root causes.

Science believers acknowledge the real and continuing negative changes to our weather – a.k.a. “climate change.“ The past year has seen snow and extreme low temperatures in Texas, leaving thousands powerless and freezing for days. Our Pacific Northwest (and Canadian neighbors) faced temperatures rivaling Death Valley, killing hundreds. Science says this will get worse.

It is human nature to rationalize minimizing our personal responsibility to our community. After all, personal challenges these days are daunting.

Our government does not have this luxury. Electeds are tasked with the responsibility to assure the long-term best interests of the community they represent, using the best data available. One option is to replace planning staff who rely on outdated models.

Our state government requires every community to have a 20-year planning document that ideally reflects what we have learned and where we need to go. This document, simply referred to as the General Plan, opens with a vision statement of what we want/need as a community, then provides the legal framework, via zoning, codes, etc., for implementation.

Grass Valley’s 20-year General Plan, created at the end of the last century by electeds and community members and now in its 22nd year, is overdue for revision. It needs to reflect what we have learned about climate change and the large and growing threats to our community, particularly fire danger, water shortages and attendant impacts on our energy reliability.

Regular readers know I have consistently raised concerns about adding hundreds of new homes (that locals can’t afford) to our 19th century infrastructure. This despite the massive, multi-year Grass Valley consultant report (Economic and Fiscal Conditions Study for the City of Grass Valley 9/8/2005, conducted by Applied Development Economics, Berkeley/Sacramento) that noted that property and sales tax revenues from single family homes do not cover the cost of city services, such as police, fire, road maintenance, etc. (For those of you who want “affordable housing,” the report also showed that multi-unit buildings are nearly tax/revenue neutral, due to density.)

So catering to the profitable American Dream of providing single family housing for wealthy urban refugees via out of town developers, Grass Valley and Nevada City have as many as 400-600 new homes currently under construction, including lamentable but arguably excusable expansions of previous entitlements from approvals made in less-informed times.

There is no excuse for approvals made in the past year or two, especially after the city of Grass Valley and cohorts previously pushed simplistic arguments for a sales tax increase a few years ago to cover revenue shortfalls — not addressing cause, just effect.

To address continuing shortfalls, council recently approved an extremely modest increase in development impact fees, a one-time fee alleged to cover ever-inflating costs of police, fire, roads, etc. As Grass Valley Mayor Ben Aguilar said, “The fees are impacts offsetting having more people come into the city and having it grow.”

Worth noting: Grass Valley council member Tom Ivy reportedly said, “I have people I work with on a regular basis who can’t find a rental.” To my knowledge, few current developments include rental units.

Now we compete for water. The Nevada Irrigation District, following its version of a general plan, has issued its five-year Urban Management Plan. Using projections based on the past six years of growth patterns, their consultant, Jim Crowley of Zanjero, projects that water needs may increase as much as 35% over the next 20 years.

Recurring droughts will need to be met, according to Crowley, by “adjusting strategies … decreasing demand (and) … increasing carryover opportunities.” Translation: raise rates, implement penalties and build dams.

In summary, local pro-growth politicians continue with policies costing existing residents higher taxes and fees, increasing the strain on limited resources and endangering our community.

We need pro-active, not reactive leaders — leaders who prioritize fire safety, support responsible resource management, enforce environmental impact reports that call for climate change carbon reduction and who are informed, courageous and intelligent enough to understand and implement basic cost/benefit principles that move beyond outdated 20th century growth models. We can’t afford fixes after the fact.

This is not a Republican/Democrat issue. It’s just common sense.

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

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