Second-units proposal well-considered and effective …
Mr. Brian Bisnett, the columnist for The Union, is certainly a well-written individual, but his portrayal in his opinions on second units is not researched and tainted with some of the usual rhetoric.
I will speak out loud and boldly here as a 24-year citizen of Nevada County and probably the longest affordable-housing activist survivor. I started my work in 1989 to try and find ways to advance the efforts to bring affordable housing back to Nevada County. I’ve served on almost every committee or board that ever convened in the interest of affordable housing. I have a current appointment on the Affordable Housing Task Force serving as the building community’s representative.
If you’ve walked the walk and done the time, it’s easy to recognize that Mr. Bisnett has read all the articles in the paper over the years, spoken within his environmental groups on the subject, and sat down for a hour or two to write his article. I don’t ever remember seeing him as a committee or board member in any affordable-housing group, nor invited to be a spokesperson or simply an attendee at one of the many Affordable Housing Forums. To the informed reader, he demonstrated his lack of knowledge on the subject. It’s unqualified articles like his that get the hackles standing up on everyone’s neck, and cause the steep divisions in our community that don’t allow both sides to sit at the table together to find compromises to the different issues associated with affordable housing for the good of all the residents of Nevada County – and I do stress the word “all.”
“Property development rights zealots undermine our current Board of Supervisors,” he says. It isn’t difficult to understand from what persuasion he writes from.
The second-units proposal was not a poorly drafted recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. It was the largest piece and probably the most important piece of work put together by the Affordable Housing Task Force. It’s certainly not the “runt of the litter.” It’s the only real viable form of affordable housing that Nevada County will be able to accomplish in the near future. Izzy Martin recognized and backed it during her participation on the task force as the best “quick fix” the task force could accomplish. We studied the issue for almost two years. We invited every faction of the community to sit in on the AHTF meetings and give us their recommendations to help us in drafting our recommendations. The task force was comprised of a fair balance of representatives from all facets of the community.
A study by an independent group with no vested interest in the outcome of their study provided us with the startling statistic that Nevada County is in need of 4,000 new units to meet our need in providing affordable housing. As the building community’s representative, I even gag at the idea that we should build that many new units to meet the demand of affordable housing. A 90-unit pilot program is a far cry from overrunning the county with sprawl and disintegration of our rural quality of life.
The initial premise of the second-units plan was to provide affordable housing for our own families on our properties. As the building community’s representative, I was the most outspoken in placing restrictions on second units so they would not become an open door for development of rental units. I believe all the representatives worked toward this goal.
The statement that second units wreak havoc with the county’s General Plan is ridiculous at best. Mr. Bisnett does not inform you that the biggest block to any affordable housing is due to the lack of infrastructure and traffic congestion issues within our city centers and community regions. Until those issues are resolved, there can be no more affordable housing built in those regions.
He displays his lack of understanding of the costs of construction with his statement that “building individual 1,000-square-foot homes is one of the costliest and least efficient ways imaginable of providing housing.” Without the costs of land purchase and the costs of infrastructure (land clearing, new driveways, installation of main branch utilities, etc.) and many more costs saved by not having to drill new wells, etc., a second unit is an extremely affordable unit to build. These types of units can be built for as low as $80 per square foot, with only the additional cost of some site clearing and installation of a sewage disposal system.
The issues of fire dangers took a good block of time, as the task force had fire department officials speak on the issues, and we spent a great deal of time to identify the impact second units would have on forest fire dangers. Admittedly, there a couple of areas of great concern, which were identified and the proper restrictions placed on second units in those two areas. A review process was put in place to look at a second-unit application in a rural area, and I believe it was put in place to identify foremost the fire issue.
Mr. Bisnett’s hysterical rhetoric of forest fires and the scare tactic of telling you that you have been placed in harm’s way is the typical drum beating of those extreme in their views of any type of new housing in Nevada County.
I applaud our Board of Supervisors for moving ahead with their promises to provide affordable housing for the residents of Nevada County, even if it is this small Band-Aid in the form of second units. I’m glad the issue of affordable housing will not be an election issue. It signifies that people participated in discussions to an issue, a fair compromise was made and our government officials acted on the wishes of its citizens.
Jim Crowley of Grass Valley is a member of the county’s Affordable Housing Task Force.
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