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Government by whim is abusive

The Planning Commission in Nevada City tonight may give some clear direction to Miners Foundry Cultural Center, allowing a much-needed renovation project to begin.

Or maybe not – and therein lies some trouble. Once again, the Planning Commission appears to be working without predictable rules that provide predictable outcomes.



The Foundry needs to undertake an interior improvement project. It badly needs better restroom facilities. Its offices, located at the top of a narrow staircase, are barely accessible even to the able-bodied.




But the interior work means the elimination of an existing window – an 11-foot window installed in 1974, hardly the heyday of Gold Rush architecture.

Since the start of the year, executives of Miners Foundry and the Planning Commission have been running back and forth from one meeting to another as they try to decide what sorts of replacement windows would be historically acceptable.

Presented with a couple of alternatives, the Planning Commission said it doesn’t like what it sees. Its opposition doesn’t appear to be based on the Foundry’s adherence to a clear set of city guidelines, but instead reflects the aesthetic values of individual commissioners.

Every time the Planning Commission sends the Foundry back to try again, the nonprofit center encounters the expense of architect’s fees. It faces potential lost revenues and the uncertainties that result when projects fall behind schedule. There’s no small irony that Miners Foundry, the cornerstone of the historical district, is tripped up by historical concerns when it tries to replace a window that clearly is out of place.

But the greatest loss here isn’t that suffered by Miners Foundry. Instead, the credibility of the Planning Commission is at stake.

Good government provides clearly understandable rules. It doesn’t dictate every detail of daily life, but instead recognizes the genius of people to find exceptional answers on their own within that framework.

When government fails to work that way, the unfailing result is Government by Whim. And that, in turns, unfailingly leads to abuse by those who believe they know better than the rest of us.

The Planning Commission of Nevada City is too important to allow its reputation to be tarnished in this way.


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