Our View: It’s about following the rules, not Dollar General | TheUnion.com

Our View: It’s about following the rules, not Dollar General

The Union Editorial Board

We are a rules-based society. Our government establishes our rules.

But being a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," if the people don't like the rules, they can be changed.

Disregarding rules in place, however, is not an option for government officials who must determine whether a proposal fits within those rules.

Of course, we're discussing the Dollar General stores controversy in Nevada County, but it's really not about Dollar General. It's about rules.

Late last year, the Nevada County Planning Department recommended approval of two retail stores, one in Alta Sierra and another in Penn Valley. After review of the project proposals, the staff also recommended against allowing another store in Rough and Ready.

Planning commissioners followed staff suggestions on Penn Valley and Rough and Ready, but went against the staff's recommendation to approve Alta Sierra.

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Why? Commissioners pointed to an unsuitable site, lack of parking and aesthetics, though perhaps "the people" voicing loud opposition to the project — specifically saying they don't want Dollar General — had something to do with it?

Regardless, county supervisors reversed that decision late last month, but by a 3-2 vote.

"This doesn't really fit the character of this area," said Supervisor Heidi Hall, who voted against.

But, according to staff, the project does fit within the rules on the books. Denying it without legal basis opens the door to litigation from a property owner who perceives inconsistent application of those rules. Some suggest the project's opponents should file suit against the county over the supervisors' reversal. Of course, such a suit would also be based on the rules in place.

Don't like the rules? Change them. Nevada City did.

In February 2016, City Council members banned "formula businesses" (chain stores) that operated 10 or more similar businesses located outside of Nevada City in an effort to "maintain the unique and historic character of Nevada City … and the small-town quality of life for its residents."

Laws are only worth the paper they're printed on, of course, until they're tested in court. But at least anyone with thoughts of operating a chain store in Nevada City knows the rules, and should expect them to be applied if such a project is ever proposed.

From the get-go, many have pointed to "cheap" and "tacky" products sold by Dollar General as reasons for their opposition, which smacks of "I won't shop there and I don't think you should either." Others argue cheaper goods not only are good for competition, but are also more affordable for those struggling to make ends meet.

After all, not everyone who lives here bought their home with cash, has a pension to support them after retirement or even can afford to work just one job.

Yes, we do have people struggling here, and a growing number of them. Nevada Union High School had 4.5 percent of its students enrolled in a free and reduced lunch program in 2002-03. By 2014-15, that had grown to 33 percent. And if you think that number is high, consider Grass Valley School District reported nearly 70 percent of Lyman Gilmore middle school students enrolled in the program in 2017.

No doubt such demographic information is studied by retailers researching prospective communities to do business. In short, we didn't choose Dollar General. Dollar General chose us.

We want to attract good-paying jobs. But the reality is most current employment opportunities here are lower-paying service industry jobs, hence the oft-repeated advice for those moving here to bring their jobs with them.

Only problem with that, for many, is a real lack of high-speed internet infrastructure necessary for such telecommuting careers. And then there's the lack of affordable housing options, due to low inventory on the market that has driven rental options beyond the reach of many.

We have real needs, but we're so often caught up in the hand-wringing over balancing our quality of life with the need for growth, that we're plagued by a short-sighted view.

All the fear of massive growth — remember the Special Development Areas? — has been unfounded. County wide, the population increased by a whopping 30 people between 2011-16.

So don't pull up the drawbridge at the Bear River just yet.

If supervisors don't apply their own rules to proposed projects, not only could they open the door to potential litigation, but also send the wrong message in the face of future economic development opportunity.

And that leaves potential investors, with the kind of capital and revenue to help meet our needs, to wonder whether Nevada County is open for business.

Our View is 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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