Our View: Development in Nevada County should stick to rules, not public opinion
December 1, 2017
The Nevada County zoning administrator has a pretty thankless job.
Explaining the law and code that shapes his decisions, Brian Foss on Wednesday took pains to emphasize that arguments about radiofrequency and property values could play no role in his decision whether to approve three cell phone towers.
Naturally, Foss was then met with a litany of arguments about how radiofrequency can harm, among other creatures, bees.
Attendees to the Wednesday meeting had plenty else to talk about: The possibility of future litigation, environmental concerns, and, of course, property values. Foss heard them all, limiting no one's speaking time.
The time has passed for governments that move on the wind of public opinion. It’s time for the law to guide our decisions.
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He then noted that the proposed AT&T cell towers met the county's requirements and approved them.
For a moment, set aside the eye rolling from a crowd that couldn't believe a government employee would refuse their hand-waving as legitimate arguments. Don't consider the lack of courtesy and outright rudeness from some who think it's appropriate to shout their displeasure during a public meeting.
Instead think of a set of rules and laws that govern everyone. These rules, some of which are shaped by federal law, should be applied equally across the board.
And if you think the zoning administrator or Planning Commission got it wrong in applying those rules, then you've got the chance to appeal to the Board of Supervisors. And then to court if you're still unhappy.
Foss' actions followed a similar process used to deny two Dollar General stores and approve one of the businesses, except in that case it was the Planning Commission that made those decisions.
That commission, though, appeared swayed by public sentiment at least in one case to deny a store in Alta Sierra when county staff had recommended its approval. That store met the county's criteria, though an overwhelming number of opponents seemingly convinced commissioners to go along to get along.
Foss didn't allow himself to get swept up into public opinion when making his decisions. He called the balls and strikes as he saw them. Because of that, rural parts of our county will get better internet access and cell phone coverage.
And, despite the snark from some, those improvements are what we need.
New cell towers — and Dollar General stores, for instance — are more than antennas and squat buildings selling discount items. They're part of a larger move toward making our county more vibrant, more welcoming and open for business.
This isn't an argument specifically in favor of cell towers and Dollar Generals, but instead one that advocates we obey the rules and laws already on the books, regardless of bee-colony claims. Business owners know they can come to our county by following the rules. They won't if our government is capricious and chaotic in its decision making.
This county won't get better by refusing to change. It'll just continue to lose opportunities until none are willing to come here anymore.
Displeased about a proposed development here? We've got an outlet for it through public comment. Make your argument — hopefully a cognizant one — and appeal if you lose. Don't expect government officials to kowtow to your view because you can draw a crowd.
Or, if the arguments and appeals don't work, then encourage someone you think is better to run for office — or do it yourself and change the very rules and laws currently stymieing you.
The time has passed for governments that move on the wind of public opinion. It's time for the law to guide our decisions.
That alone should bring a "thank you" to a thankless job.
The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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