George Boardman: Politically correct in Nevada City, egg on my face in Grass Valley, and out in the cold
August 19, 2018
Four members of the Nevada City Council did the politically correct thing recently when they voted to mothball a proposal to erect a statue of Senator Aaron Sargent and his wife, Ellen, heretofore considered shining examples of the area's white pioneers.
At first glance, this decision appears to be a sharp departure from the local custom of revering numerous pioneers of the Gold Rush era I never heard of until I moved here in 2000. None of them shined brighter than Sargent and his wife.
He overcame the handicap of being a journalist and lawyer to get elected to the California State Senate, the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, where he introduced the basic language of what was to become the 19th Amendment, giving women the right the vote.
Another proud local institution, the Famous Marching Presidents, decided this made Sargent and his wife, a leading feminist of her day, candidates for a statue to be erected in the Queen of the Northern Mines. They failed to account for the modern penchant for judging historical figures by the standards of today, and holding them accountable for their sins.
Sargent's biggest sin was advocacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited the immigration of all Chinese to the U.S. and was one of the first laws barring immigration based on a specific race and national origin. First passed in 1882, the act was actually the law of the land until 1943.
That was enough for many residents of the town, who phoned and emailed council members, and appeared in person at City Hall, to denounce the project.
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Council member Erin Minett viewed the statue as a potential public relations disaster for a town that relies heavily on the taxes generated by tourists. "We will make the front page of the New York Times if we do this — we would become a laughingstock," she declared. Fellow council member Reinette Senum, who has experience being one, saw the debate as "a lightning-rod conversation."
In the end, the council did the politically correct thing by punishing Sargent for not adhering to social standards considered the norm 131 years after he died. But why stop there? Before the euphoria of a self-righteous victory dissipates, I think the town should zero in on an even bigger target.
I'm speaking of Sargent's promoters, the Famous Marching Presidents. After all, 12 of the men they portray were slave owners, advocates of America's mortal sin for which we are still doing penance. Do we really want people representing these guys marching down Main Street on the Fourth of July?
Once we eliminate the Dirty Dozen, we can zero in on others who fall short of today's political standards. Teddy Roosevelt is suspect for trying to project American influence throughout the world, and Woodrow Wilson was a known racist who did nothing while our European allies carved up the Middle East after World War I.
With enough effort, Nevada City's holier-than-thou contingent could probably whittle the group down to the Famous Marching President. Abe Lincoln would still command a certain presence on the Fourth of July, and he would be a virtuous one.
Yolk's on me
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the residents of Grass Valley for making fun of our quaint little foothills gem back in 2011 when the city council voted to allow chicken coops on residential property.
I wrote a letter to the editor of this very paper then suggesting that the hot summer months would create a barnyard smell downtown that would bring a new dimension to the dining and wine-tasting experiences, and that this was no way to attract the high-tech jobs our leaders claim to want.
It appears I was wrong about attracting high-tech jobs because chickens have become a big deal in certain precincts of Silicon Valley. It's hard to gauge how widespread this phenomenon is, but Tour de Coop, an annual bicycle tour of 63 coops, has drawn up to 2,500 chicken voyeurs in recent years.
As you would expect in an area where an annual salary of $137,000 is considered middle class in Palo Alto, some people have gone to great lengths to show that money doesn't make you any wiser. A resident of Monte Sereno reports that her Giant Blue Frizzled Cochin rooster and four hens live in coops that are electrified and plumbed.
The coops have antique windows, hand-milled wooden rosettes, a metal roof, motion detectors, time-activated lighting in the roost areas, and are equipped with an automated, nipple-based watering system. The coops are adjacent to a patch of artificial grass and a bubbling fountain.
Then there's the rooster that's owned by a (irony alert!) psychology professor who makes sure the bird gets a weekly bath and blow-dry. The bird is registered as an emotional-support animal because the professor is worried that pre-dawn crowing could upset her neighbors, who might alert authorities and have the rooster removed.
Auxiliary services have also sprung up to make life easier for the novice poultry owner. Leslie Citreon, a breeder and professional chicken whisperer, charges $245 an hour for poultry consultation. Needless to say, organic food designed for our two-legged friends is becoming a growing business.
I report all of this now so the Economic Resource Council can mention our poultry-friendly vibe to the up-and-coming small high-tech companies it's trying to woo to this area. In the highly competitive race to attract high-tech jobs and the money that comes with them, you never know what local amenity will tip the balance in your favor.
Give me shelter
You would think at least one firm out of 228 that were invited to bid for a county contract to run an emergency severe weather shelter this winter would submit an offer, but you'd be out in the cold if you believed that.
The proposal was fairly straight forward: The chosen vendor would have to operate a shelter from Nov. 15 to March 15 that would be opened to the homeless when the weather got bad enough. The successful bidder would have to provide the building, staff it, pay utilities and — I'm guessing — meet a mind-numbing list of conditions imposed by the county.
For this, the winner would be paid $10,000 to $15,000 by the county. No wonder just three of the firms that received the proposal downloaded the paperwork and nobody bothered to complete it and submit a bid.
None of this seemed to faze Mike Dent, director of the county's Department of Child Support, Collection and Housing: "The county is working on several other options to expand shelter capacity and bridge housing beds for our homeless population," he emailed The Union.
Here's the first option the county should consider: Put up enough money to make it worthwhile for some organization to take on the project.
If the Board of Supervisors can give River Valley Community Bank a break on $10,000 in fees and other costs, it should be able to find at least that much money to give a break to people who actually need one.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.