George Boardman: A group of Grass Valley citizens take the initiative on a tax increase
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City councils are elected to oversee the spending of tax money and provide leadership that will hopefully produce a better city. That includes things they don’t want to do, like convince citizens to raise their taxes.
But they apparently do things a little differently in Grass Valley, where a citizens group has launched an initiative to raise their own taxes to hire more police and firemen, clean up and improve the city’s parks and community areas, and repair streets and sidewalks.
And according to one of the leaders pushing the tax increase, city officials are behind the effort to address what many see as growing crime and blight in their community.
For their part, city officials have tightened regulations that address illegal camping and associated fire risks, allocated funds to hire an additional policeman and a community service officer, and purchased motion sensor surveillance cameras and a surveillance drone to provide eyes where police can’t be all the time.
At the same time, city officials are insisting that there is no perceptible spike in local crime, with some caveats. “There’s not a statistical change — but that being said, I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ll say that what I see in town sometimes isn’t what I saw a decade ago,” Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said last July. “The way people are feeling shouldn’t be discounted by trying to put statistics in front of them.”
Gammelgard was reacting to a city council meeting where residents complained about feeling unsafe because of what they perceive to be rampant crime. One resident suggested that if the city doesn’t do something, people might have to take matters into their own hands.
Perception is reality when it comes to emotional issues like crime. Crime can be pretty abstract if you’re reading about it somewhere else. It becomes very real and threatening if it happens to you or close to you.
Thanks to the ubiquitous internet, it’s certainly easy to be more knowledgeable about the subject. Police logs and jail bookings are easily accessible, and there are plenty of Facebook pages and blogs that can fill you in on the local crime situation. Some of the information from citizen journalists is actually accurate.
Homelessness and the increase in transients also make people feel uncomfortable. “We are … focusing our effort on areas we know our community is concerned about — specifically fire dangers, environmental risks, and theft-related issues related to the transient activity we’re experiencing,” Gammelgard said last summer.
A lot of this falls under a policing theory known as broken windows, which has received a lot of the credit for reducing crime in places like New York City. The theory is fairly simple: Maintaining and monitoring a community to prevent crimes such a vandalism, graffiti, public drinking and drug use helps create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crime from happening.
Daniel Swartzendruber, a leader of the tax initiative that will probably be on the June ballot and a self-professed “true lover of Grass Valley,” believes many of these issues can be addressed if more money is available.
He is particularly concerned about the condition of the city’s parks, many of them rundown with playground equipment that’s approaching 30 years of age, and havens for transients. “By adding the parks and rec to the funding structure of this new measure we can start to improve our parks and community spaces, and take the parks back,” he wrote in an email last week. He also sees the need to spend money on crumbling sidewalks and poorly paved streets.
Swartzendruber has no problem with the effort police have made in dealing with the crime issue but would like to see the police department regain the manpower cut in 2008. He also wants to see EMTs in the fire department replaced with paramedics so residents can get the kind of emergency medical service they expect when the dial 911.
To accomplish this, Swartzendruber’s group wants to rescind a half-cent increase in the sales tax that was passed in 2012 and expires in 2023, and replace it with a one-cent increase in the sales tax with no expiration date.
The group had to collect the signatures of at least 190 residents of Grass Valley to get the measure on the ballot. Swartzendruber said over 260 signatures were submitted to the county election office and that over 220 of them are valid.
“I’ve gotten each of the council members onboard with this. All five helped me circulate the petition to get names and signatures,” Swartzendruber said. “The council and staff are all very excited about this measure.”
He said he is driven by a desire to restore the town he remembers.
“I’m 37 years old and I want this place to be a great place to live, a great place to visit for tourists, and a place where my family will call home for years to come,” Swartzendruber said.
Now that initiative backers and city leaders have joined together in a common cause, we’ll see if enough voters share their vision for a better Grass Valley.
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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