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Grass Valley hardly an oasis for business

The notion that the city of Grass Valley just rolls over for business interests seems a bit far-fetched.

The most recent skirmish in our ongoing growth wars revolved around the design of a new building for DeMartini RV Sales on Idaho-Maryland Road. Tim DeMartini, whose current lot practically spills over onto East Main Street, said he told the city a couple of years ago that he wanted to move his business.

According to DeMartini, the city then asked him to stay in Grass Valley, and it even helped identify locations for the RV business.



Why would any city reach out to a business like DeMartinis? The answer probably has a lot to do with the amount of sales tax the business collects for the city, which in this case is considerable.

Now before you say we should not sell out our unique character and heritage, I ask you to look at your personal situation (you need money to pay the bills, right?) and evaluate a recent proposal put before our City Council that was largely motivated by an outcry from residents.




In the case of Grass Valley, more revenue is needed to maintain and improve our streets. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that the city proposed raising development impact fees on commercial projects by as much as 100, 200 and even 300 percent in some cases.

The proposed increases are steep on any scale. Moule Paint & Glass, which wants to move across the street from its location on East Main Street, would see its fees jump from $100,248 to $237,724. Another proposed project, a research and development office complex, could see its fees rise from $68,748 to $282,754. Those increases would primarily be earmarked for transportation projects.

When you see these proposed fee increases, it is a stretch to assume we have a city staff or a City Council that wags its collective tail every time someone pitches a building project. In fact, you could easily argue that these sort of increases will discourage small businesses from expanding or moving here.

What kind of business could afford these sort of impact fees? Of course, it’s the big-box retail stores that few of us want to see in western Nevada County. And I can assure you that those corporations and their lawyers won’t flinch when they hear the word Roseville.

The reason city staff proposed such large increases in development impact fees is that the city needs more money to ease our transportation pains, which opponents of projects like DeMartinis have identified as the number one problem in Grass Valley.

And therein lies the problem: How does the city resolve its traffic problems without additional revenue? It’s pretty obvious that we shouldn’t expect any state or federal highway transportation funds in the near future even if Rep. John Doolittle has pledged his assistance in getting money for the Dorsey Drive Interchange project.

Keeping a business like DeMartinis in town is part of the solution. After the owner decided to build in the city, it took him more than a year to get through the process. After the project had passed through a gauntlet of seven different meetings that led to three design changes, it had 57 conditions attached to it, according to Tim DeMartini.

The final design that was presented to the City Council was developed through the city’s own process and largely paid for by DeMartini. This doesn’t sound like a free ride, especially when you consider the city likely wanted to keep this business here in the first place.

Maybe a better question to ask is whether certain parties in this community really want a solution to our traffic problems? Are they using the traffic argument, the architecture argument or the development impact fee proposal as a way to discourage small businesses from either expanding or moving here?

Would these same folks who expect businesses to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and for mitigation studies be willing to accept a half-cent increase in sales tax dedicated to street projects?

The answer is probably no. According to a Citizens Concerned About Traffic memo that recently wound up in my mailbox, the group seems to oppose any sales tax increase.

The memo, in bold print, says at one point: “Instead of the responsible party bearing the burden for remedying the problems created, it will be the taxpayer who will suffer the resulting traffic congestion and will bear the financial burden.”

This comment raises the chicken-or-egg question. We know that many of our new residents are choosing to move here in pursuit of a certain quality of life. At the same time, it is highly unlikely they are moving here to shop at Moule, even if it is an local business that has been here for decades.

As an area grows, so does the demand for local services and supplies. It only makes sense then that an existing business might want to expand to meet the needs of a growing community. When that business expands, it collects additional sales tax revenue that a growing community needs.

Are design standards and traffic mitigation efforts important for Grass Valley? Absolutely. But let’s make sure our arguments are genuine and the solutions fair to existing businesses that have been here for many years.

ooo

Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at patb@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4235.


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