Government needs to uphold public rights |

Government needs to uphold public rights

After reading about recent land use issues – private property rights versus the public interest – I think it is time for government to take a more proactive stance to protect the rights of the public at large. Current local government is facing the threat of lawsuits for the “taking” of land. It is time for government to start thinking about collecting fees or something like that for the “giving” of land or other land use decisions that benefit individual private property owners at the expense of the greater community.

The City of Grass Valley would like to establish a public trailway along Wolf Creek. This plan is well-supported by a broad base of the community. While there may be some legitimate concerns about creating such a parkway, in general, these kinds of parks have tremendous immediate and long-term benefits and add value to adjoining properties and the community at large.

The value created is huge in several ways, including financial. “Quality of life” is hard to quantify and it is different for different people, but it is real, nevertheless. How can anyone logically argue that strolling along a tree-lined creekway is not a welcome relief from the sights and sounds of an urban environment? If not, why do so many people want to move to the country? Why are properties sited along creeks worth more than those surrounded by houses? Also, some of us still think there is value in wildlife. Green corridors through urban areas are too often critical to species survival.

A local, large tax revenue-producing business has twice adamantly opposed giving up creekside land to benefit the general community and has threatened legal action should the government take a few feet of his land along Wolf Creek. This, despite recent government actions that benefited the property owner – he was granted a general plan and zoning change to accommodate his business plans at a nearby parcel and one of the early conditions of approval was that the landowner give a public easement along the creek.

This otherwise worthless land – the landowner can’t build on it, put a sign on it or park a vehicle on it – was argued to be a security threat. Trail walkers would proceed up a steep hill through brush, climb over a security fence and vandalize his property. And they would leave litter!

Now the same landowner wants to put asphalt one large human step away from Wolf Creek in his newest speculative development and again, does not want the public around, unless they are carrying a checkbook and looking to buy his merchandise – or pay him for his land.

Meanwhile, we have Alta Sierra residents who bought property years ago with the understanding that the public has legal access to Rattlesnake Creek and who now do not want to allow that legal access, despite community-wide polls showing broad support for local trails. The original development was approved with the understanding that the public was to get something out of the deal and homebuyers were disclosed that this was the deal. Now they want to renege.

If the argument is that public access diminishes property values, by reason, denial of public access should logically enhance property values. If this is the case, when a property owner receives a financial benefit from a public action, they should be required to give the public at large some form of recompense for the private property owner’s “taking” of public property from the community.

If the argument is that “it’s my property and I can do what I want,” we would have no zoning rules, general plans, noise ordinances or, for that matter, any laws restricting usage. Civil societies have long recognized the need to balance the rights and needs of the individuals against the rights and needs of the public at large. This is what government is for and good government recognizes the need for balance and fair play. And good citizenship requires a recognition that one’s personal agenda does not take precedence over the needs and values of the community in which he or she lives.

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

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