Paul Matson: Nevada City’s Sphere of Influence coming back to the table
Earlier this year the Nevada County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) was introduced to the recommendation of slashing Nevada City’s Sphere of Influence from 2,900 to 1,450 acres. The Sphere is the area outside the city limits into which, over time, the city might annex as it grows.
There was tremendous public interest and support for Nevada City at the hearings from city and county residents alike. It was decided to have the LAFCo Policy Committee review the matter in greater detail and report back to the full commission with their conclusions. That is happening on Sept. 21.
To me, the Sphere of Influence is mutually beneficial to those already within the city limits, and to its neighbors living within its Sphere of Influence. Both groups contribute greatly to protecting and enhancing the overall atmosphere and natural beauty that we share and love.
One important question has been whether or not Nevada City is capable of providing adequate recreation, sewer, public works, fire and police services to the areas within its Sphere. The answer is yes.
The three cities provide the brunt of our county’s recreation. Nevada City, with its 10-acre Pioneer Park, provides comprehensive active recreation, as well as 300 acres of city-owned open space with 12 miles of trails in pristine locations along Deer Creek, at Hirschman’s Pond and Sugarloaf. This is a remarkable contribution from our little town.
Because of our Gold Rush history, most nearby major roadways run into and through the city, and are well maintained for all visitors, people going to work, school children and residents.
Nevada City’s Fire Station #54 is staffed 24/7. “That in combination with a long-standing, positive Mutual Aid agreement with the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and the Grass Valley Fire Department have recently improved our (ISO) fire safety rating from a five to a three,” said Nevada City Fire Chief Sam Goodspeed.
Our police officer to resident ratio is 3.4 per 1,000 residents which is 30 percent higher than the 2.2 ratio that the Department of Justice notes for other cities of our size.
And lastly, the city maintains the only sewer plant within the sphere. “As growth occurs the city will evaluate if further plant expansion is required. However, the city has the present capacity, without further expansion, to serve all existing properties as they are currently developed, both within its boundaries and its Sphere of Influence,” said City Engineer Bryan McAlister.
As a result of the work of the Policy Committee, SR Jones, LAFCo’s Executive Officer, makes the following new recommendations by creating “Areas of Special Concern” for Sphere Designation for City Spheres, including any of the following:
Protection of a portion of the City’s water source.
Lands or facilities owned by the City.
Protection of sensitive environmental and scenic resources and historic character consistent with the City’s General Plan.
Consideration of orderly and logical City boundaries.
This new designation constitutes a lot of diligence, work and progress on LAFCo’s part.
City Planner Amy Wolfson recommends adding a fifth category of “special circumstances,” “Community Identity.” As to why that’s a good idea, City Attorney Hal DeGraw sums it up as follows:
“Maintaining the current Sphere of Influence for Nevada City, assuring it an effective role in decisions regarding development of surrounding areas within its view shed and water shed, is important, not to block development, but to assure that any such development is compatible with maintaining, and not detracting from, the unique character of Nevada City and that of our neighbors.”
This constitutes our Community Identity.
“Current LAFCo policies limit inclusion within a city’s Sphere of Influence to areas likely to be annexed within 20 years. That is a very short period of time when one considers that it has taken Nevada City and its surrounding areas over 150 years to develop our distinctive, historic character. LAFCo’s Policy Committee has recognized this disconnect by recommending a new category, ‘Special Concern,’ to keep within a city’s sphere areas that are not ready for annexation within the 20-year time frame. While not a perfect fix, it’s a step in the right direction,” DeGraw said.
As a former 15-year LAFCo Commissioner, I believe the new directions are needed, appropriate and good. A great deal is at stake here. Please attend the hearing in the Nevada County Supervisors Chambers at the Eric Rood Government Center on at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. Ironically, the city’s annexation of Sugarloaf is on the agenda that very same morning.
Paul Matson, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not reflect the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Write to him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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