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Grass Valley’s ticking time bomb: What’s your opinion?

It’s been eight months since The Union published its excellent series about the “massive developments” proposed for Grass Valley at Loma Rica, Kenny Ranch, North Star, and South Hill Village. News about these developments has been sparse since then, but the developers have been hard at work drawing up detailed plans and getting ready to push for approval of the annexations and their plans, a process that will begin when the economic impact study is completed.

In the meantime, it’s important that citizens realize that we are sitting on a time bomb. If the developers of the four proposed annexations all get what they want when they want it, the population of Grass Valley will more than double in the short space of 10 years. Compared with an historical growth rate of just a few percent a year, this growth is nothing if not explosive.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-growth, and I think many aspects of the proposals are positive. But I am very concerned that the growth we are now facing is too much, too quickly. We simply cannot afford to approve all four plans, as proposed, at almost the same time.



Together, the four developments are proposing 3,674 new housing units. At an average of 2.47 persons per unit, that’s about 9000 new residents, who will put an astonishing 36,000 more vehicles on our roads every day (10 trips per unit per day, a standard traffic engineering estimate). If you’ve tried to drive through downtown Grass Valley around noon, or through the Hills Flat intersection at 5:30 p.m., you know that just 3,600 more vehicles will make a bad situation worse.

Consider also the larger context of the four major development proposals:




– The 3,600 proposed housing units are almost six times what is called for in the city’s General Plan (and when the current General Plan was adopted in 1999, it was justifiably criticized for allowing too-rapid growth).

– Grass Valley is growing fairly rapidly even without the four major developments. In 2003, 361 housing units were approved and are in the pipeline, and another 104 are now pending approval. And that’s only within the city limits.

– The current proposals make a mockery of the moderate growth guidelines contained in the General Plan. The development of Kenny Ranch was not supposed to happen until after 2010. The developers of South Hill Village want 312 housing units, while the General Plan allows zero; 2,300 housing units are slated for North Star, almost 2,000 more than called for in the General Plan.

– To accommodate the traffic that will come with projected growth, city and county officials are talking about widening many of our two-lane roads to four lanes, putting in a new interchange on Highway 49 for the North Star development, and even widening the Golden Center freeway to six lanes.

Besides making our foothill communities look more like L.A., these “improvements” will require the exercise of eminent domain – the taking of private property for more asphalt. (Wouldn’t it be ironic if supporting the “property rights” of a few large landowners caused a bunch of smaller owners to lose their properties?)

Does any of this bother you? If so, there’s still a lot you can do about it. City Council members are sensitive to public opinion, especially when it takes the form of letters to the editor, personal letters and phone calls, and citizens speaking at council meetings.

I know there is significant citizen opposition to the growth proposed for Grass Valley. During the Friday Night Markets last summer, Grass Valley Neighbors conducted a survey and found that 85 percent opposed the new shopping center proposed for South Hill Village, and that 95 percent supported the goal of managing growth. Many people we talked with, including long-time, conservative residents, said they felt threatened by the rapid changes on the horizon.

And yet, city officials aren’t hearing from many citizens. This lack of citizen input just reinforces the traditional way of doing business, in which city officials work under the illusion that they are serving developers and not the citizens of Grass Valley. The city isn’t going to come to you asking what you think; you’ve got to tell them loud and clear.

My opinion: Let’s generally follow the outline of the General Plan. Give the go-ahead to Loma Rica (the least problematic of the four, traffic-wise), drastically scale down and delay North Star, put off Kenny Ranch until 2010, and nix South Hill Village altogether. What’s your opinion?

Freelance writer and editor Eric Engles, PhD, lives in Grass Valley and is involved with Grass Valley Neighbors, a grass-roots community group advocating managed growth and citizen involvement (www.gvneighbors.org). The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Grass Valley Neighbors.


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