Jeff Pelline: Making friends with flatlanders?
Our economy’s bête noire – expensive housing – seems to be taking care of itself to some extent because of the prolonged housing slump. We have friends who could afford to buy their first home this year.
But to close the persistent gap between our community’s housing costs and income, at the crux of our economic woes, we need to lure more businesses that provide higher-paying jobs, tax dollars, even charitable contributions.
Progress has been slow. We seem to be working harder to keep from losing businesses than landing new ones. 2Wire became the anchor tenant of the Nevada City Tech Center. Meanwhile, two Grass Valley companies – SMA America and Mobius Technologies – left for Auburn and Lincoln, respectively. Though low-tech, a new furniture store in downtown Grass Valley is a boost.
Until our private sector grows faster, making it easier to generate money and tax dollars, we’ll have to depend more on the whims of Sacramento, Washington D.C., tourists and outsiders to help sustain our rural economy. (I’m still dumbfounded we’re labeled “rural” but still less than an hour from a Ruth’s Chris Steak House).
We need grants, loans and money for broadband, education, health care, mental health care, roadways, sewers, wastewater treatment plants and on and on.
One of our biggest business bottlenecks, literally and figuratively, is Highway 49. It’s also dangerous and should be widened. This week we hit a snag to receive $500,000 to help build the long-discussed Dorsey Drive interchange in Grass Valley, funds that Congressman John Doolittle (R-Roseville) fought for on our behalf.
We depend on our elected representatives in the 916 (Sacra-tomato) and 202 (D.C.) area codes to help out. But in some cases, I worry whether our voices from California’s 36th-largest county will be heard.
Our long-standing U.S. representative “inside the beltway” is in the biggest rope a dope of his political career. This week, even follow GOP representatives called for Doolittle not to run for re-election.
“I do think it would be best if he didn’t seek re-election,” GOP Rep. John Campbell of Orange County told the Associated Press. Ouch!
Doolittle, a nine-term incumbent, barely won re-election last year.
The congressman’s political troubles already may have made him impotent on Capitol Hill. In April, Doolittle stepped down from the powerful House appropriations committee.
Whoever replaces him will have to work from scratch to build relationships in Congress and work his or her way onto powerful committees. Meanwhile, our needs for government money for infrastructure, services and care of our aging population (in one of the state’s oldest counties) will grow.
We’ll have to depend on Doolittle or a freshman U.S. Congress member to help make that happen on our behalf. Charlie Brown? Good grief, GOP’ers would refrain. “Do little”!, the Democrats would shout back.
So it goes in California’s 4th U.S. Congressional district.
The outlook for our representation in the state assembly in Sacramento also is uncertain.
Nevada County Supervisor Sue Horne, the hometown candidate, faces an uphill battle in her bid for the 3rd District Assembly seat being vacated by Rick Keene (R-Chico) next year because of term limits. Her opponent, Yuba flatlander Don Logue, has won endorsements from incumbent Keene and state Sen. Sam Aanestad, among others.
Aanestad is from Horne’s backyard around Grass Valley. He sits on the appropriations and health committees, among others. (Even Doolittle vists our office more than Aanestad; I can tell you Julie has a new iPhone, for example; Sam, I guess, has maxillofacial tools).
We’re a long way from the June primary. But Logue has powerful backing and has raised more money.
In politics, as in life, it’s more often who you know, not what you know, that brings results.
I sometimes wonder if we’re too insular in our neck of the woods, to our detriment – you know, big fish in small ponds.
We like to circulate in our own social networks – the reserved tables at the myriad Rotary Clubs in Grass Valley, Nevada City and Penn Valley come to mind – but do we have enough contacts in our Rolodex (or Blackberry) from outside the 530 area code? Do we scratch enough flatlander’s backs to get what we need? Do we have enough “friends in high places”?
Worse, I find some of us can be downright hostile to people who come to our area with their own fresh ideas from anywhere outside the 530 area code. God forbid we listen, even learn. (“You yellow-bellied sapsucker.”) Although many of us are fiercely independent, we still are quite dependent on outsiders.
In a rural community such as ours, you’ve definitely got to build an espirit de corps. But when you depend on the outside world to help keep your economy chugging along, you’ve got to be willing to play by the outsider’s rules from time to time.
Sometimes that means playing their nandy pandy political or corporate games, not yours.
California politics is famous for men such as cigar-chomping Artie Samish. “I’m the governor of the legislature; to hell with the governor of California,” Samish liked to say, chuckling. In the ’40s, Samish was photographed in Collier’s magazine with a ventriloquist dummy, saying, “this is my legislature. How are you Mr. Legislature?” Though humourous, it sparked outrage and led to political reform.
To be sure, the politicians who represent us are making an effort to fight for our community’s interests outside our small world. Horne, for example, is chair of the Regional Council of Rural Counties, where she has worked to land money for our community.
Supervisor Nate Beason sits on a working group of 12 counties to help solve some of the state’s financial woes over wastewater treatment.
In August our supervisors voted to spend $36,000 per year to hire lobbyists in Sacramento to represent our interests. “There will be a benefit to this,” Board chairman John Spencer said in our paper. “Right now, all we can do is mail a letter” to gain influence in Sacramento.
Some residents questioned the idea. “I thought Nevada County already had lobbyists named Rick Keene and Sam Aanestad,” one said. “It’s a sad day that we have to hire lobbyists to do our elected officials work. Why can’t the supervisors or elected officials get it done?”
Let’s hope the flatlander lobbyists bring some more money into the county, and let’s hope our next representatives in Congress and the state assembly can do the same. Until we can jump start the private sector, we will lean on them more to help sustain our little corner of the world.
Jeff Pelline is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays. Contact him at 477-4235, email@example.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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