Terry Lamphier: Council fiddles while Grass Valley burns?
Hello, Grass Valley City Council! It is reassuring to know that, as we approach yet another likely dangerous year for wildfires, you are in deep discussions with City and County staff to evaluate impacts of new housing and other developments on fire evacuation routes (having apparently rejected the concept of “building moratorium” while these things are sorted).
You have studied and learned from the massive and deadly traffic jams of the Paradise Fire (even on its main four-lane highway), the destruction of the massive, relatively modern housing development in Santa Rosa when flames leaped the freeway and the heretofore unprecedented fire tornado that burned part of Redding.
We, Grass Valley voters and citizens, look forward to our mayor’s public statement on what Grass Valley is doing to make our community fire safe.
Oh, you have not studied the issue? You are relying on “firesafe” house-by-house brush mitigation, enhanced building codes (that applies to new construction only), traffic mitigation regulations designed for “normal” traffic patterns and the assurances of the free market that their projects are “safe” and “in compliance with regulations” (as did Butte County government officials prior to the Paradise Fire)? That these efforts will assure safe evacuation of thousands of current and new residents on our two-lane roads winding through heavily overgrown brush during the likely inevitable fire challenges coming soon?
OK, developers, what’s your contribution? Have your traffic studies, modern building codes and environmental impact reports found reassurances that increasing density on our existing community and its roads will assure the safety of all of us when another devastating foothills fire races at 50 miles per hour towards Grass Valley, as it did to our Paradise neighbors some 40-50 miles north? “Not our job,” you say? You are just following government rules and regulations, you say? Not legally liable for contributing to our local fire danger because of government rule compliance? Nice.
Or perhaps you are not in compliance with all the rules, but our local developer-friendly elected officials are satisfied with staff “findings” that alleged benefits of building unaffordable housing override other considerations? As any City official will tell you, the Grass Valley General Plan, with its codes, regulations and zoning is only a “general” guide, after all.
Thank goodness you have upstanding public citizens such as Keoni Allen, treasurer for the very conservative Nevada County Contractors Association Political Action Committee, railing against, in his words, “land speculators” in defense of the current Loma Rica developer. Allen is likely hopeful that his and his cohort’s undeveloped Loma Rica-area parcels under the airport take-off zone will finally yield some profits after years of delays and lawsuits, including his own against the Nevada County Airport Land Use Commission.
We also can be thankful for our bright, deep thinking Grass Valley Planning Commissioner Yolanda Cookson (who apparently has never met a development she doesn’t like, despite well documented economic and quality of life downsides), who gushed to the Loma Rica developer, “I know we’re not going to make you a gazillionaire, but … thanks for sticking with us”, echoing her previous sentiments when she approved a different housing development, saying “it’s a win-win for everyone. We need houses, period.”
What a great time to be a developer, what with a very supportive City Council and, according to the Sacramento Bee, a 17% rise in median sales price of houses in Butte County since the Camp Fire in Paradise.
Let’s see, with our Nevada County Association of Realtors December report of western Nevada County’s average housing list price of $574,550, and add to that a 17% bump, we can soon see average house prices in the area of $672,223, still a bargain for urban refugees flocking here (my Sunnyvale friend’s 1,000-square-foot house on a busy street is worth about $1.2 million).
Elections are coming up and we have the opportunity to continue our City’s current policy of STOP (Safety Tops Other Priorities — Note this is sarcasm) and ignore Paradise survivor Martha Bryant’s hysterics (as reported in the Sacramento News and Review, “Mourning Paradise”): “What I remember most is just the sheer fear and panic and my heart pounding … nobody was moving. And I was just screaming ‘Move! Move! Get Going! Move!’”
I hear cutting trees and making more golf courses are a good way to stop fires …
Terry Lamphier, who lives in Grass Valley, is a former Nevada County supervisor.
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