The Union Q & A: Olivia Diaz, District 1
This is the second of a series of question-and-answer sessions conducted by The Union’s Editorial Board with candidates for Nevada County supervisor and Nevada City City Council.
Olivia Diaz, 61, of Cascade Shores is running for the District 1 supervisor seat currently held by Peter Van Zant, who is not seeking re-election. Diaz is a retired businesswoman, and has headed the Cascade Shores Homeowner’s Fire Safe Committee and the Federation of Neighborhood Associations. Her Web site is http://www.OliviaDiaz.org.
NEXT: District 1 supervisor candidate Nate Beason.
The Union: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you entered the race.
Olivia Diaz: I grew up in a household where my father was very active in community activities. He was sort of a one-man settlement house, and his goal in life was to make the Mexican-American have opportunities to be a first-class citizen. And when he was growing up in the ’20s and ’30s and into the ’40s, there were signs in the restaurants that said, “No Mexicans or dogs allowed,” and it really offended him when he was about 7 years old. It made a community activist out of him.
He was born in Arizona – both my parents were born in Arizona, and I was born in Phoenix – so as I was growing up I had the opportunity to see this, and to also be imbued with the values that community service was the most important thing that one could do with one’s life. So all of us – I had three siblings – became active in the community in some way.
I became a rehabilitation counselor – I have a master of science degree in rehabilitation – and I have 15 years of returning injured workers to gainful employment. I worked for the Department of Rehabilitation and I also worked for Los Angeles County. For six years I had a solo practice where I just worked alone. I generated the work, I did the work, I billed it, and when the money came in I distributed it. So I had quite an introduction to the world of business by doing that. And then I went to rural Illinois to marry my current husband.
The Union: Where in Illinois?
Diaz: Warrenville, between Naperville and Wheaton. And the museum we built ended up in Aurora, which is 50 miles due west of Chicago. When I went there I didn’t really know what I was going to do, because I had been a rehabilitation counselor for 15 years and decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I eventually became the first executive director of the Warrenville Chamber of Commerce. I saw we had a volunteer chamber, and I proposed a way they could pay an executive director by having the executive director go out and raise the money. They bought it, and I became the first executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
While I was executive director at the chamber, my husband, who was a scientist, decided to start a hands-on science museum in the western suburbs. Up until then, everybody had to go into Chicago, and it was 40 miles. It was a little town – had been a little corn-growing town – and they felt that Chicago was a big, bad city. So we started it in our living room. He had his friends ” other scientists – make exhibits, and they took turns trying to break them. The most destructive force known to man are groups of 10-year-old boys. They run in packs, you know [laughs].
We got one place, then another, and finally ended up in a 30,000-square-foot former U.S. Post Office that had been built by the WPA. It was this gorgeous building, and we got it for $1 a year from the city of Aurora. We continued to build exhibits while I ran the chamber board for eight years. During that time, I was director of development and I did all of the fund-raising to sustain the organization, because one of the facts of life of museums is that you can’t charge what it costs to run the place, otherwise nobody could afford to go to it. So I had to raise about $300,000 a year, which I did every year.
At the end of the year we wondered how in the world do you do that? But we just continued working all the time. The last four years I was the executive director, and my goal during that time was to put adequate corporate structure into the organization so that when the founders left the place wouldn’t fall apart. So we got two consults over a period of three years from Arthur Anderson & Co. which, in that day, was a wonderful place. They gave us a consult on strategic planning, including the board staff.
So I left in 1999 and the place is still operating, so that mission was accomplished. And then we moved here. That gives you an idea of the kind of business background that I have. I understand that time is money. I’ve seen our board – I’ve attended the Board of Supervisors’ meetings very regularly for the last three years.
The Union: What prompted you to do that?
Diaz: I became very active in the Cascade Shores Homeowners’ Association about just a few months after I moved. I was the treasurer and then secretary ” actually, I’m still secretary – and I joined a government liaison committee. And the purpose of that committee was to monitor all the different activities of the county board, like the Planning Commission, I went to meetings of the Transportation Commission, certainly the Board of Supervisors, to keep an ear to the rail and to understand issues that were coming up that would affect Cascade Shores.
That’s what started me. Every once in awhile we’d hear something that was coming down the pike that would eventually have an impact on us, and I would take it back to the board and we would take some action. For example, recently there was a request for rezoning at the bottom of Lake Lane. I did a door-to-door survey of the neighbors to find out how they felt about it, to inform them that this was about to happen, and did they want to go to the Planning Commission ” you know, telling them what the process was. They seemed to be neutral on it, so I just wrote a report, sent it to the Planning Commission and we didn’t make a recommendation either way.
And I was curious anyway, because the newspaper really doesn’t have a lot of detail about what goes on at the board meetings, and I wanted to understand what the process was. So having done a lot of theater work in my youth, I would watch the audience to see how people were reacting ” who was reacting, who was speaking, who they were representing, what points of view did they have. So I was gathering information to try to understand who the forces are in the government.
I have a natural interest in government. I’ve never run for political office before, because I’ve been too busy. And now I’m retired (I’ve been retired for four years) and I had a lot of fun. We were hiking two and three times a week (I got so that hiking wasn’t painful anymore), and I was playing Mexican Train with the ladies in the Cascade Shores Women’s Club, and I was writing my memoirs, and I was playing the cello, and all these things I’d been wanting to do all my life. I had played cello as a girl, and one of my life goals was to take it up again when I had time. So I took lessons for a couple of years – then my teacher moved. About that time, I got involved in this campaign and I just haven’t resumed lessons.
The Union: Would you have run if Peter Van Zant had run for re-election?
Diaz: No, I wouldn’t have opposed Peter. That’s why I was surprised when they asked me. I said, what about Peter? And they said, “Oh, he’s decided to retire.”
The Union: Who asked you?
Diaz: Nancy Weber [Nevada Irrigation District board member]. I was working with Nancy through the Federation of Neighborhood Associations. I’m president of the federation. And she and I had done a lot of work on POFS. It’s an organization that didn’t get a lot of attention – it stands for Property Owners for Fire Safety. And we were formed to monitor the second-unit task force. Because you know one of the things they wanted to do was to loosen the restrictions on fire safety so that people could build the second units pretty much where they wanted to.
So we were attending all these meetings, and I spoke up whenever it was appropriate. And at the Board of Supervisors I spoke up all the time. Mostly I was addressing fire safety issues, because I’m chair of the fire safety committee in Cascade Shores.
The Union: What do you see as the key issues in this campaign?
Diaz: The first one has to do with sprawl. When I moved here, I had already been in three places that I saw get overrun, and one of them was the western suburbs of Chicago. In the 18 years that I was there, there was a huge difference in how the western suburbs came out to the cornfields. And the first time I saw it happen was in Phoenix when I was a kid. My dad was part of that – he was on the city council, and they were building infrastructure. And we were so proud of the progress; we felt like we were doing right.
And then when I was in the Los Angeles area for 20 years, I was so busy raising my family that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. But in the ”60s and 70s, Los Angeles became this huge megalopolis where the only way you know a city has ended is because the names of the streets or the numbers change.
This time, I come here and I saw this beautiful area – it’s not pristine, exactly, but it’s still quite beautiful – and I saw that development creeping up the hill and I had to join the fight to keep the county beautiful.
Right now the General Plan is being redone by the board. Under the previous General Plan, the Walker report [by a University of Oregon researcher] came out where he actually counted and multiplied using the county multiplier of 2.7 persons per household. If we were to build out with all of the parcels the way they’re zoned now, we would have 231,000 people here in Nevada County. We’re at about approximately 95,000 people now, and I wonder where are we going to put all those people?
The Union: If we do the math, you’d have to build on every single
acre of land in Nevada County to come up with that kind of a population. That may not be taking into account the buildability of all those lots.
Diaz: The board has really loosened up the places where you are allowed to build, like the 30 percent slope. I was against that because of soil erosion, and because the steeper the slope, the faster the fire runs up it.
The board has the opportunity of revising the General Plan and bringing it back down to a more reasonable level. I’m going to have to pay more attention to what they’re doing. But then we need to implement the measures that are meant to mitigate against the impacts, and require that the developers pay their fair share.
Once again, there are some studies that have been done. The Lincoln Report that came out of Lincoln, Calif., said that for every new house that is built, there is a $15,000 infrastructure charge that is paid for by the taxpayers. And I was just sent an Oregon report that says it is closer to $30,000 to $50,000 per household. This is infrastructure. You have to add roads, you have to widen roads, you have to add more emergency personnel to serve all of these people. There’s the impact on the schools ” all kinds of impact when you add a lot of people to an area.
And so they are saying that between $15,000 and $30,000 additional cost is not being paid by anyone. We need to insist the developers pay their fair share. The board has the prerogative to waive fees, and we really need to hold the line on that.
The Union: Have you seen the board waive fees for developers?
Diaz: I’ve seen them waive the necessity for additional evacuation routes. That’s another thing that I really worry about.
The Union: Like Stonebridge?
The Union: Four of the largest projects being proposed are not county projects, but involve annexations for Grass Valley that the board of supervisors would have very little influence on.
Diaz: That’s right. Absolutely.
The Union: You have come out against the Deer Creek Park II project in District 1. What do you think about the Loma Rica Ranch project, and why is that any different?
Diaz: What I’ve seen of that, it has a road that they intend to change ” Idaho-Maryland where it comes out on Brunswick. Part of their plan is to move that road so it doesn’t end up on Brunswick at that point; it will eventually come out in a place where it is not as steep so that it won’t be so dangerous. And then it’s supposed to go out to the Dorsey Drive interchange.
The Union: Isn’t the Loma Rica Ranch project significantly larger than Deer Creek II? You mention the mitigations resulting from every single house that’s built – if Loma Rica Ranch is built now, wouldn’t that have a significantly greater impact than Deer Creek II?
Diaz: Well, it doesn’t have the water problems and it doesn’t have the road problems, the vehicles. The two things I am opposing about Deer Creek Park have to do with use of a community septic field that is going to be above and 100 feet away from Little Deer Creek.
Also, from knocking on doors and talking to the neighbors on Red Dog Road, they told me something that I didn’t know. Little Deer Creek is fed by springs all along the mountain. It doesn’t have one source. And the water runoff goes down past Red Dog Road and flows into Little Deer Creek. It turns out that in very heavy rainy seasons ” and sometimes we have an exceptionally heavy rainy season – the springs begin to bubble up under people’s houses, in their yards. The water table gets very high. And that it interferes with their individual septic fields.
It really frightens me when you think of that happening to a community septic field for about 200 houses. All that water – I don’t see how they are going to prevent Little Deer Creek from being polluted, and that’s peoples’ drinking water. We just can’t take a chance with peoples’ drinking water, especially when you find that the normal weather patterns would precipitate something like that, even if everything worked. Of course, there’s technology, but it comes down to the weakest link, and often that’s a person.
The Union: Do you favor Deer Creek Park or oppose Deer Creek Park?
Diaz: I’m opposed to it the way it is.
The Union: Do you favor or oppose Loma Rica Ranch?
Diaz: I haven’t studied that very thoroughly yet. I favor aspects of it. I like the aspect of having mixed use in there. I like the different kinds of housing proposed, not just one type. Having business and retail in the same area, I think that’s in the right direction, so that people can walk to the store to buy milk and bread, so they don’t have to get in a car.
The Union: Doesn’t a big project like that meet your definition of urban sprawl?
Diaz: What I think of as sprawl is going out into the rural areas at the end of a long, winding narrow road and then putting a development with lots of cul-de-sacs. Like Cascade Shores, for example. That’s a perfect example.
The Union: Of sprawl?
Diaz: Of sprawl, yes. You need to do more infill, and Loma Rica is infill; it is in the community sphere of Grass Valley. It’s close to infrastructure, it’s close to major roads, and it can be connected up to the sewer project. But mainly having the mixed use so that some people can walk to work or bike to work, people can walk to the store.
Right there you are attacking the problem of traffic. Whereas Deer Creek Park is a classic example of sprawl, the way I was defining it ” long winding road. Although it is not that narrow – some of these roads are 8 feet wide, but this one at least is a two-lane road. But it’s already an overused road.
And they refuse to put any mixed-use in there. They could have asked for a retail thing to have a grocery store, a mini-mart. They also could have put a park there. They’re keeping all of this open space, but it’s timber-logging space. With a park, the parents don’t have to drive their kids to soccer practice. There are all kinds of things that you can do.
And Red Dog Road comes down to Boulder Street [in Nevada City]. One of the mitigation measures that they have proposed is a roundabout at the bottom of Boulder and Park. First of all, you don’t have enough room for a roundabout, so you’d have to knock down somebody’s house. And that’s an historic area. Can you imagine the logging trucks? So that’s not an adequate mitigation measure.
I have walked on Banner Mountain Trail and Bandolier ” there are these little roads coming down to Gracie that pretty much parallel Red Dog Road. Those roads are owned by the neighbors, and they have said to me, over my dead body are they going to pave this road.
They don’t even want it paved – they want it to be a dirt road, a gravel road, because they want to keep their rural atmosphere. They like it that there’s dust. It was quite an education for me to go walking there.
The Union: Which brings us to affordable housing. There is not going to be affordable housing without addressing infrastructure needs.
Diaz: That’s why it has to be in the city sphere.
The Union: Is there a way for the county to influence the four Grass Valley annexation proposals?
Diaz: I don’t think they can. I think they already did through LAFCo [Local Agency Formation Commission] when it was first proposed. The county met with the city officials and they worked out a tax-dividing benefit – because it includes part of Brunswick or Sutton Way, someplace in there – and the county was going to lose all this tax revenue. So they negotiated what they considered to be a fair division of the taxes so that the county didn’t lose everything. And I believe that’s the end of their influence over it.
It’s a little scary to me, the number of houses that are going to go into Grass Valley. If we think traffic’s a nightmare now, I just can’t imagine what it’s going to be like – well, I can imagine because I’ve been in places where I’ve seen it happen. I remember in Pasadena where I lived in Southern California, I used to have to wait in line for a parking space at Von’s. That was one of the reasons I left L.A. I thought, this is ridiculous. That and also us feeling threatened. I felt that the level of danger in the streets was rising.
The Union: What was your take on NH 2020?
Diaz: I thought it was a real good example of county government not listening to the people. I think it was well-intentioned. I have a lot of respect for Izzy Martin and Bruce Conklin. But they didn’t listen when it was very clear that the people were saying we don’t want it, we don’t like it, take it off, we’re going to vote it down. And they just refused to listen; they just kept pushing ahead. That is one of the things that has polarized our county so badly. You wonder why. I guess they thought they could push it through.
The Union: You talked at a forum the other day about how the soul of the community has been hurt. How would you, if elected, try to deal with healing that?
Diaz: We need to start by identifying areas where we agree. I bet if we were to talk without rancor, there are areas we all agree on. And I’m not sure exactly what kind of forum that would take, but probably in little groups. Talking to the Contractors’ Association, CABPRO, Sierra Club. Taking people from opposite sides of the aisle and begin to talk to each other.
It must be facilitated by somebody who is neutral and skillful. But we need to be able to do that. We’ve got some big problems. Every summer we have new fire danger, this budget crisis of the state is choking us, our local economy, affordable housing, and growth pressures on our rural quality of life and our neighborhoods.
I’m particularly worried about the neighborhoods because through my work with the Federation of Neighborhood Associations I hear the concerns of the people on You Bet, the people on Greenhorn, the people on Colfax Highway. There are a lot of knotty issues. I find affordable housing one of the biggest ones.
The Union: If there is one thing you could look back on that you wanted to accomplish by the end of four years, what would that be?
Diaz: Adequate evacuation routes for every neighborhood. I think
that’s doable. It’s really important not to lose anybody. And right now we can’t guarantee that, because there are lot of places people can get trapped. There has been a new state regulation called the Public Resources Code” PRC 4291 – that says cul-de-sacs are not to be more than 1,000 feet long, there will be no more dead end roads. These are the kinds of things that the board really needs to enforce.
The Union: A back door, for a vehicle?
Diaz: Yes, you’d have to have a vehicle. You can’t outrun a fire.
The Union: In your district, from knocking on all the doors, what do those people think should be the No. 1 task for you to accomplish?
Diaz: They would ask me to stop sprawl. They don’t like the traffic. But that is because they haven’t faced a fire since 1987. I read a statistic that half the people who were here during the 49er Fire are now gone. Of that half, half of them have forgotten. And so you don’t have too many people left who are really worried about fire. We just don’t think about it.
For example, the poor fire districts, they need to have additional money to be able to pay the firefighters. We’ve gotten too big to be volunteer fire districts only. But the voters keep voting it down. But that’s because the election is in March, when the last fire was in September.
The Union: So what can the county do?
Diaz: The fire districts are independent taxing districts. The county doesn’t have that much control over it. However, they do have control over enforcing the fire safety. For new house built, you have to add a pullout so that you can let another car pass. And that’s fine if you are looking at it one house at a time. But you need to look at the cumulative effect.
For example, in the 49er Fire they had 1,500 cars and gridlock on Highway 49. On Pleasant Valley Road, there were all these people exiting Lake Wildwood. The people on 49 were in a panic and they refused to let the people get onto 49. A squad of three fire trucks was dispatched to fight the fire in Lake Wildwood and the fire trucks could not get through. We’re just lucky nobody was killed or that the whole place didn’t burn down completely. It was just luck that the wind changed, or something happened.
But the 4290 standards have to be applied with a cumulative look. Because if you have a pullout and you have a fire truck coming in, and there are five houses at the end of that cul-de-sac, then a car can pull out and the fire truck can go forth. But if you’ve got 150 to 1,000 people, that little pullout is not going to work.
So that’s one of the things the county can do is enforce the 4290s. Also, in the 4291 standard, they include this inspection of houses – CDF [California Department of Forestry] goes out and inspects houses during the summer. They are funded by the county for five months. In those five months, they check about 2,000 houses. Well, it turns out there are 13,000 dwellings and two inspectors – and they need to be doing that year-round.
But the county funds that, and that’s one thing the county can do, because it takes them 10 years to get to all the houses and then they’ve got to start again. At that rate, if we were to double it, it would only take five years. But of course the number of houses keeps going up.
The fire districts need to have their measures put up during fire season. Maybe people then will say, whoa, my house could go this time.
The Union: Have you any thoughts regarding the drug problem and related crime in the county as a supervisor issue?
Diaz: I sure have. I read an article in the New York Times – I take the Sunday New York Times – and they were saying that the meth labs are the scourge of the white rural counties ” it’s all over the United States. So after I’d read that, I was interviewed with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association ” who chose not to endorse me, which I think was a mistake, but I’ll support them anyway – and they told me that’s right. It’s in the rural counties, but Nevada County is No. 1 in meth labs all over the U.S.
Part of it apparently is that one of the prime ingredients is fertilizer, and in a rural county you have access to that. The other thing is the smell. You have to be in a place that’s wide open. But, boy, it’s a scourge. It’s horrible for the environment, it’s ruining families, it’s ruining people’s lives.
The Union: It is also related to break-ins and other crime.
Diaz: Yes. The other thing they said is that a lot of it doesn’t get reported. There was this incident of the woman who was beaten up, she was asleep on the couch, and somebody came in and he went to get the person’s stash. Well, they didn’t even report that to the police because they’re doing something illegal and they don’t want people coming in. When I was walking in the more outlying areas, there were a couple of times where the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I thought maybe I shouldn’t be here.
The Union: What do you think the solution is?
Diaz: It has to be two-pronged. I do believe it is a crime issue. In fact, I made a commitment to the sheriffs to help them find money.
Because I said if we are talking about being the No. 1 county, and we’re talking about it being the scourge of the whole country, there must be money out there to combat it.
I asked them who on their staff goes out after grant funds, because the old head-of-development red flag went up. And they said their staffing is down so low that they are beginning to feel that they don’t have enough staff to continue looking for grants. Also, when you get a grant you have to report. I didn’t tell them then, but I later thought about it and decided to volunteer to help them find some money. So come April, I’m going to jump in because in March I’m going to take a month off.
The Union: You’ve got all this federal money in this so-called war on drugs.
Diaz: We need to combat the meth labs, we need to find them – apparently they know where they are but they need some clever ways to find money to put out rewards so that people will turn them in. Especially these meth heads who are desperate for money.
But they also need additional staff. They need to be able to afford to have a squad that puts their attention on reigning them in and to make this a place where it’s not comfortable to have a meth lab. That’s going to take money, and it would have to be grant-funded.
Maybe there is private money around, but it would require somebody really searching it out, somebody who knows what they’re doing.
When I talked to Bob Wood at the administration office of the sheriffs and volunteered, he said the county apparently has an online search directory, so that would make it a little easier.
The other thing is that when I was a rehabilitation counselor, there was a study done by the Office of Management and Budget, and they found that for every dollar invested in rehabilitation, the public saved $14. Some of these people are hardened and are not going to be rehabilitated. There are going to be a lot of failures. But there are going to be some who are going to be saved, and they turn around and try to do some good.
So it does have to be two-pronged. I’m sorry these people failed in their rehabilitation programs, but part of it is they need to have oversight. The probation officers need to not be overloaded – what is their caseload, 150 or something? When I was a rehabilitation counselor, 75 was top. And we didn’t do the kind of intervention that the probation officers do.
The Union: Another issue has to do with the Yuba River ” federal wild and scenic designation, dams.
Diaz: I support the state wild and scenic designation, because it is a deterrent to dams being built. It’s not a guarantee. Eventually we will have to go for federal designation. But right now would be a stupid time to do that, because it would get turned down. The current federal administration is not looking well on environmental issues. I think they see rivers as being a way to bring in resources ” money.
So I would not support going for federal wild and scenic right now. But that’s the only guarantee.
You know, people talk about private property – it’s our private property and we don’t want the wild and scenic putting requirements on our land. But actually, the requirements are already there, because it’s a riparian area – I think 200 feet from the river is considered a riparian zone. And there are WLPZ regulations ” I think that’s Waterways, Lakes Protection Zone – already in place that have nothing to do with wild and scenic. They are blaming the wrong agency for any of the restrictions on how they use that 200-foot swath of land. It has to do with causing runoff into the stream, and pollutants going into the stream.
But if the federal government authorizes a dam, they don’t go and ask the private property owners, is this OK with you? They just build the dam. They do reimburse people for it; it’s eminent domain because the Bill of Rights says they can’t take your land without paying you. But they don’t ask your permission. They drown it under 200 feet of water. What’s that safety for private property owners?
And if they were to build a dam, where would they build it? They would either drown the little town of Washington, or Camptonville or Bridgeport. So I think we need to safeguard it. And that’s not even saying anything about the river itself, the beauty of the river.
I grew up in a desert – Phoenix was a desert – and we had a river called the Salt River. Three days of the year it had water in it. Some newspaperman came and said to them, “Phoenix either ought to buy a river or sell a bridge.” But that’s because he was not there in those three days, because often we would have these tremendous rainstorms. I’ve written a story about it – I call it “The Thunderstorms.” You couldn’t see in front of you because it was like buckets of water coming down.
And that river actually touched the bridge one time, and it was a good 500 feet above. It was this raging torrent that comes through because of the way the desert sand is. Gorgeous experience. But we needed that because in that particular time it actually divided south Phoenix from the rest of it.
There’s a Los Angeles River, have you ever seen the Los Angeles River?
The Union: Made of concrete?
Diaz. Right. And in Illinois I lived across the street from the western branch of the DuPage river which was about this deep and it was mainly a mosquito breeding ground. So this is the first time I’ve lived near a river that really inspires love. And it inspires loyalty.
There is a beautiful video that was made by Greg Schiffner and Gary Snyder that’s an homage to it. It’s called “Tales of the Yuba.” It’s beautiful, and it talks about how the hydraulic mining that was done at Malakoff Diggins caused something like 5,000 years of evolution to happen along the river, because it was basically scrubbed by that mountain that came down.
And so it is just beautiful. And you can lie on these wonderful rocks that are smooth and soft ” they have these curves to them. It’s just lovely. So I fell in love with that river within a year of the time I was here. And I’ve been a river advocate since then. And then in September, when Robin Sutherland proposed this resolution [opposing federal wWild and scenic designation] , I was just appalled. I couldn’t believe she would do that. I didn’t understand why. And I still don’t understand why.
The Union: What is driving that opposition?
Diaz: I was told there was something called river ranching, where you build a dam and then when there is a dry year you can sell the water to downstream places. So it’s to be able to make money from the river.
The Union: Does the number of departures by county staff in the past year indicate a morale problem?
Diaz: This is an area where I don’t have the history of it. There is always turnover, and whenever there is a change of administration, historically there is turnover. We’ve lost some conspicuous people, and when I’ve been knocking on doors I’ve talked to some people who were either working for the county or had chosen to leave. They say that policy is changing ” that policy changes from morning to afternoon. Here they are, answering questions from the public, and then come afternoon they have a meeting and find out that the policy has changed, and it makes liars out of them. That’s very hard for them to deal with.
Maybe it’s micromanaging by the board, I don’t know. I have observed board members ” the new ones particularly ” send reports back to staff without proper justification because the reports didn’t say what they wanted them to say. It’s costing the taxpayers $500 an hour for that board to have its meetings.
At one particular meeting – it was where they were reviewing a request to raise building permit fees. The Contractors’ Association and CABPRO said they accepted the increase ” that it happens periodically, there hadn’t been an increase in some time, and that their members understood that it needed to go up. Well, the board didn’t want to raise permit fees, so they sent it back – “Redo the numbers, there must be a mistake.”
And yet they didn’t understand that’s exactly what raises overhead. It’s the efficiency of government that allows overhead to remain stable, and what pays for the overhead is permit fees. So there is a relationships between time and money, and this board doesn’t seem to understand that. To me, that’s a basic business tenet. You can’t afford to do things over and over again.
So one of the things I would hope to bring is my brand of leadership, which is not to micromanage but to talk to the department heads. You have to evaluate your department heads; they have to perform to your specifications. And if they do their job right, then you shouldn’t be fussing with what’s going on – you have to trust your managers.
The Union: We haven’t touched on the issue of the proposed regional “super sewer.”
Diaz: I don’t like the idea of tying into a very large one that’s already there. The terrain that we have in Nevada County requires regional approaches. And it does lead to additional development. I haven’t researched it that well, but I was at a LAFCo meeting recently, and they passed a resolution to further investigate regional sewers using the most up-to-date, high-tech, state-of-the-art methods. That’s the direction we need to go.
Decisions then would need to be made about where we’re going to put those, and that’s where the growth will happen. That is an opportunity for input from the community, as well as from people who know the geography. We need to put houses where it makes sense to put them.
That would be a very sensible way to approach the issue of sewers. Instead of tying into old technology, something that’s huge, it’s in the wrong place. The south county, I don’t think they can tolerate any more growth. I wouldn’t be adverse to putting a sewer there. Now how we pay for it, that’s a different story. I don’t know the answer to that.
The Union: What’s your view on affordable housing, or workforce housing ” what other terms are there?
Diaz: Well, there are four levels: very low, low-income, affordable and workforce housing. I think it’s critical for the quality of life for us to solve this problem. Because if it’s only retirees who can afford to live here, then who is going to do the work?
We have to do all this clearing, and even my husband and I are getting too old to do the clearing in our place. We had to pay somebody this year. We’re going to have to import the workers from Marysville and Sacramento and maybe from Truckee – and so we have to have places for people to live.
However, the problem is that there is no money in building them. Now, the county is responsible for putting the zoning in place. And every five years they’re required by the state to update their housing element. But they are not required to build them. The private sector has to build.
We had this clever idea of the cohousing. That was totally privately funded, and that provided some workforce housing and some affordable housing. That was done with private dollars.
The Union: We don’t know if $259,000 is affordable or workforce housing.
Diaz: Yes – but I think the solution to very low-income housing is that you’ve got to find subsidies for it. You have to do it. You also have to build apartments, condos, townhouses. Everybody thinks single-family-unit house, separate house. And we have to get away from that thinking.
The Union: Or smaller houses.
Diaz: That’s right. As these projects go, I think you stipulate, “Yes, you can do that, but you must do some of those kinds of houses.” You have to keep to the rules, and the rules say that if you build a development, you put affordable housing units in it. Another thing I’m against Deer Creek Park for – it has no affordable housing, and he is asking for a variance on that rule. So we have to do that, and probably look for public-private partnerships.
The Union: How would that work?
Diaz: When I was working for the museum, we were very active in the national and international scene. And we saw several – St. Louis was an example. They had a crumbling wharf on the river, and they went out for private money, for HUD money, for National Science Foundation grants. They got private contributors and they did a public-private coalition, they called it. They had a representative from the governor’s office and they had mayors and they had everybody involved in it. And they rebuilt that wharf and made it into a beautiful tourist attraction.
They put in a children’s museum, and a theater with ballet and symphony, and it was all in one area. They began to complain that they were having traffic problems at 11 o’clock at night. But it was beautiful what they did, so I know that there are models that work.
You know, the current board doesn’t have a clue about how to go about doing that. And I do. That’s one of the things I think I would bring to the board.
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