The Union Q&A: David McKay, Nevada City council
This is the last in a series of question-and-answer sessions conducted by The Union’s Editorial Board with candidates for Nevada County supervisor and the Nevada City City Council.
David McKay, 53, is running for his second term on the Nevada City City Council. A 35-year resident, he is a professional photographer. He can be contacted at 265-2969.
The Union: Tell us a little bit of your background.
David McKay: I moved here when I was 19 years old, that was 35 years ago. Now you can add those two up and know my age ” 53. I’ve been married for 21 years. I’ve two children. A daughter who is 20, living in Davis and going to the Sacramento City College Davis Extension so that she can transfer into Davis. She’s in her second year of college. My son is a sophomore at Nevada Union. My wife is a Hospice nurse.
I’m a photographer. I’ve owned my own business for 30 years. This is my 30th anniversary this month. I do a lot of product photography and corporate-type photography. I take photographs and then they have me finish it all the way through ” copy writing, ad layout, flier sheets, brochures, catalogue pages, things like that. And I teach photography at Sierra College, beginning and intermediate black and white photography.
I got involved being on the council about 4 1/2 years ago. My son came within about an inch of being run over in a crosswalk coming home from school, in front of SPD. When I called the Nevada City Police Department, I basically was just given the put-off.
So I called The Union. They said, “Let’s come out and take pictures of you and we’ll do a story.” I said, no, the story is not about me. Go talk to the crosswalk guards, the teachers and parents and volunteers that wear the red vests and have a stop sign, and they still almost get run over. So The Union did. It took the story in The Union to then get the police out there in the morning and in the afternoon, to just have a presence to slow the traffic down. To this day, they are still doing that.
I’ve helped in political campaigns over the years. Back in the ’80s I helped a woman named Pat Malberg who ran for Congress, so I’ve been involved in campaigns that way, but never ever thought I would be in politics myself.
The Union: So this crosswalk incident gave you a taste of community activism.
McKay: Right. Then one other thing happened ” a good friend of a lot of ours got killed at the intersection of East Broad where it turns into North Bloomfield Road. If you were on the North Bloomfield side trying to cross into Nevada City, you’d look each direction. The traffic was going so fast, you’d say OK, this looks about as clear as it’s going to get, pedal to the metal, and try and make it across.
She got slammed, and it was so sad. I went to a council meeting where they were saying, “well, that’s right on the edge of our city and we’ve never had a streetlight here, blah, blah, blah. The council was not going for it. I just got up and said, “A person’s life is more important to me than whether we’re politically correct on the historicness of a traffic light being on the edge of Nevada City. Did you ever think that you could ask Caltrans for light fixtures that look very old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century? Because they had electricity then.” And Caltrans said, “Oh yeah, we do in fact.” But they hadn’t mentioned that yet to the city.
So all of a sudden, next thing I know, those two things are what prompted me to go, “Doggone it.” Being self-employed, I don’t get a paycheck unless I do the work. I have to be very proactive every day. It’s a tough challenge to get up – I don’t have a boss around me or anything to tell me, :Hey, get to work.” You have to be a strong motivator and a doer. And when I watched how everyone in government just talks and never does anything, I said, “I’ll give this a try.” and it’s been a great experience.
I hadn’t really paid much attention except I would see the council people on the streets or at SPD or in the store, and say hi. But never in my life did I dream I would someday do that job.
The Union: Have the key issues for the city changed in the past four years, or are they the same?
McKay: The key issues are the same. It’s quite interesting. When I went out four years ago, some people had heard of me. I’ve lived in the town for 35 years, and I’ve been very, very active in nonprofit organizations, whether it be the Nevada County Arts Council or the school boards, things like that. KVMR, SYRCL, the Land Trust – all of those are organizations I’ve been very involved with, and helped start a lot of them. So variety is the spice of life, and I’ve been accused of trying to spread myself too thin by being involved so much.
So when I went out knocking door-to-door four years ago, it was a lot of people saying “nice to meet you” and “good luck” and “hope you win.” But you never knew if that meant a “yes” vote. And I’m just not pushy enough to say, “Can I count on your vote?” I never want to put anyone on the spot. That’s not who I am.
This time when I’m out knocking door-to-door, people are answering and saying, “Oh yeah, Dave, you’re doing a great job, we’re voting for you.”
So instead of just checkmarks that I’ve been there, it’s all checkmarks with a “yes.” And that’s a a really good feeling. Because I was kind of the virgin then ” they didn’t know Dave McKay, they’d just heard he was a nice person.
But nice people can also have other sides, so you wonder how many doors are going to slam in your face when you go out there that second time ” it’s a little scarier, because you just don’t know. No matter what you do at that table, you’re bound to upset somebody over some little issue, or major issue, who knows? I have not run into that one bit yet.
The issue that I ran into then and now is traffic. The same issue that got me involved. And even on one of the more backroads of Nevada City, when I ask what’s traffic like on this street, they say, “they go so fast, I’ve lost four cats,” or “I’ve lost several dogs,” or this or that.
We’re just lucky – not that I consider cats and dogs less than my children – but at the same time, as a father, every time I would hear a screech in front of my house and a neighbor going, “Oh my God,” and their animal just got run over, I would look for my children.
And so the volume of traffic and the speed of the traffic is No. 1. No.2 is the condition of the roads. And No. 3, which kind of goes with those first two, is any kind of development within the city or outside of the city that would add to that impact. And that’s it. It’s amazing. They say, overall,
“Everything’s pretty good here in Nevada City ” the only thing I’m frustrated about is the traffic.”
The Union: Do you agree with critics who say that Nevada City has gone overboard in trying to preserve its quaintness restricting any new development in Nevada City, or by not annexing within its sphere of influence?
McKay: Well, let’s see. Up until the last 10 years, maybe 12 years, we were one square mile. Everyone always bragged that Nevada City was exactly one square mile. Now we’re two square miles. So we have grown, and that attitude has softened and changed.
You can’t be an isolationist unless you are independently wealthy. And the city is not, you know? One, we have the lay of the land, the geography, that limits us, compared to Grass Valley. Grass Valley’s name says it all, it was a big valley. And even though it is still hilly, it is a much broader, more open area to build in.
Nevada City has its own character, and I’ve never lived in a place where people feel so strongly about whatever it is they feel about it. They let you know. They’re not afraid to call me on the phone; there are a number of messages every week for four years. They’re always nice, and I always call them back and have a great conversation.
This Sunday I had someone – and I could barely see them through their screen door ” who asked if I was a Republican or Democrat. I said this is a nonpartisan office, it truly is. But they kept insisting, and his wife then piped in with, “We need to know, we can’t vote for anyone if they’re not a Republican.”
I said, look, I really believe in my privacy, and I really believe in not opening the door to something that shouldn’t happen: turning Nevada City politics partisan. The Democratic Party doesn’t run Nevada City; neither does the Republican, or the Greens or the Libertarians or the American Independent. This is citizens of Nevada City putting a huge effort out to get 500 to 800 votes to get elected, out of the total voting pool, and then volunteer your time for free for four years. And to go to council meetings and committee meetings and meetings with the county, on county commissions and state commissions – it’s a lot. You’ve given up about 25 percent of your life for the city.
So I just explained it to them like that. I’m issue-oriented. I don’t care what your stripes are, I’m going to listen to you and try and help you. They invited me in. I was there for a half-hour, forty-five minutes, listening to all their concerns and frustrations. More generally about the country, but still some about Nevada City. They wanted to know how they could get involved in Nevada City. That was really great.
By the time it was done, they said, “We can vote for you, we’re going to vote for you.” It’s getting past that initial barrier, and it takes time. It takes me way longer than anyone else knocking on Nevada City doors, because I will take that time right then and there. I could say, “Here, my number is in my flier, why don’t you call me later?” They will never call me later – most people are too intimidated to do that. I figure this is the opportunity to just listen. I say very little when they’re talking to me, and if I don’t have a solution, I say I’ll find it out. Or would you like to be on this committee? And would you like to help with this?
The Union: What are you hearing from them as far as annexing to prepare for future growth?
McKay: Very little. Their fear is we’re going to let in too big a project. You figure for every house, that’s 10 vehicle trips per day, with 2 1/2 people living in it. So if you have 200 homes, that’s 2,000 vehicle trips per day. That’s a lot in a little town like Nevada City.
It wasn’t designed for that. These are little gold mining towns where the roads were the original wagon trails and stuff like that. They weren’t laid out in a grid like some kind of master plan; it was willy-nilly here and there.
On Sunday, again, I was at a man’s house in Nevada City and never met him before. And he was second generation – he was born here and his parents were born here. And on the walking list, the voter list, it says what people’s parties are. So I know what they are, but other than that I never mention it to them.
I was looking at it, after I talked to him, and this man is registered Republican. He was real nice to me, and he had questions. He said, “There are times when Nevada City seems to be a little tough on people trying to build. In fact, I’ve added on to my house, I added a porch, I added onto a room. And it was a little tough. But you know what? I really appreciate that toughness, because look at what we have.” Nevada City is what it is because it has a very strong vision of preserving what it has.
And yet you have to move forward, and the cohousing is a great example of that. Originally, that project – that piece of land – is from the old mindset where, as new development has come in, that developer says, “We don’t want to have any affordable housing in our project.” And so they did a density transfer, all over to the land where co-housing is and another piece of property that is not owned by them. So in other words, everything kind of gets shoved over to that corner.
When the project of three years ago came up, was this company from Stockton or somewhere like that wanted to put in an 80-unit affordable housing complex. I’m not afraid of an 80-unit affordable housing complex. But if you’ve seen that land over there, that’s where they tested the monitors for doing the hydraulic mining, so it’s a little Malakoff Diggins-Grand Canyon. It’s not flat land. You’ve got to build on top of knolls practically.
It was going to take almost a mile of retaining walls, some of them as high as 15 feet, for large sections, right next to people’s old Victorian homes that have been here for 100 years or more. It was trying to shoehorn way too big a project for the scale and size of Nevada City. Also, those people came in and the first thing they said was, “If you don’t approve our project, we’re going to sue you.” Well, why would you invite someone like that into your house? I mean, you want to have friendly people that say, “Gee, what can we do to be a new partner in this town? What can we do?”
It was not the right project. The people came out. I mean, it really woke the people of Nevada City up, from all over. And it wasn’t just because they’re elitist and they didn’t want to have that. It really had things that weren’t good for us.
So then we said let’s look for something that can work, and the cohousing came up. That’s 34 units within its project, plus seven more houses that each have a second unit above the garage, for a total of 48 houses. So there are new homes that are going to be from moderate to low-income affordable, as while as the rest are going to be fairly affordable from about $275,000 – $300,000 up.
The Union: Affordable by Nevada City standards?
McKay: Affordable by California standards. You’ve got to realize that the average price for a home in California is $305,000. That’s the unfortunate thing when the bare land costs $150,000 to $250,000, and then it’s going to cost you ” even if you build it yourself ” $100,000 for materials and your time. It is a very, very frustrating thing to deal with
Our housing element requires that in every development, four houses or more, 30 percent of it be for moderate to low to very low income, and 20 percent of the homes built will have either an attached or detached second unit that can be rented to a low income or very low income person.
And then you integrate that so that you have the mentoring. If you are a college student and you’re renting a one-room second unit above a garage while you’re going to Sierra College, you’re not going to be partying all night or making meth or something, you see what I’m saying? You’ve got that kind of a thing.
All over the country, the projects they’ve built for very low income people have been failures, because there is nothing for them to mentor from, there is nothing for them to see an example. They’re all in the same boat, they’re all struggling, they all think the system doesn’t help them or doesn’t work for them, woe is me, no motivation, and they fail. But when you integrate into your community a mix of housing, you get a healthy community.
The Union: The co-housing project it did have to struggle to get approved, and critics have said that this is an example of an overly demanding
Planning Commission. What’s your thought on that?
McKay: It’s kind of like a poker game. A developer comes in and says I want 30 houses on X amount of acres. That developer really wants 15 houses on that amount of acres, but if you start out asking for 15, you’re going to get knocked down to even less because you’ve got neighbors saying, “Hey wait, I don’t want this kind of density. I’ve been here all my life and it’s always been an empty field.” So you’ve got all those kinds of things. It’s a two-way street.
The first question that was asked at the Planning Commission of the co-housing people was, is this an affordable housing project? And they said no. This is townhouses. This is never meant to be an affordable housing project. And that’s what a lot of the arm-wrestling was about, because we had this new ordinance that was already in place before they came into town. That 30 percent had to be for moderate to low income people, and 20 percent had to have second units.
Well, these are townhouses, so adding a second unit to them didn’t work. But they had carports – and then they had these seven lots. They were real creative in saying, “For us to finance our co-housing project, we need to be able to sell these seven lots.” And that’s why they needed to have PD – which is Plan Development. Instead of applying for two separate projects, they had us combine the whole piece of land – even though they’re completely different lots – and they are going to be selling those seven.
And then they said, do you mind if we put some of this 20 percent, 30 percent, into these seven. Even though they are really two separate things, we’re just initially combining them. And we said sure. Again, we got creative – they would have had to have more if we just put it just to the 34 units. So the city was flexible there. But they really did not want to have that. They really, really didn’t want to have that.
There are over 100 cities in California that have that kind of zoning – because that’s what it is going towards. They are all realizing that the state is becoming much more proactive in getting on the ground. Show us on paper and show us on the ground how you are going to accomplish this goal. And the thing this state is focused on within that housing element any more is where’s the moderate, low and very low? That’s it. The rest they figure is well taken care of. Of course, you want to generate business and all that. Service and lodging, yes, that generates tax dollars. But what every area is guilty of is not taking care of the low and very low.
The Union: With a threshhold of four houses and up, how often is that going to be triggered in Nevada City? Is this actually a way to block more affordable housing from the town, through inclusionary zoning.
McKay: Someone could build one house at a time or build three houses at a time. All laws are only as good as they are enforced, No. 1. But No. 2, the state doesn’t require us to demand. All you can do is say these are the rules and we want you to play by them. But people will find loopholes, they always do.
I’ve seen people get plans approved, then what they got approved and what they go build are two different things. Night and day difference. We don’t have a compliance officer in Nevada City; we don’t have the staff for that. So usually we only find out about it when a neighbor calls up and says, “Wait a minute, this isn’t what they presented.” And then they have half or three-fourths built the house, and you’re supposed to tell them to tear it down? That doesn’t make you very popular.
Can our system be more user friendly? Absolutely. And the Planning Commission has a different mission. Their job is to be tough. When it comes to us, we have the luxury of being a little more flexible. And so there is the checks and balance in Nevada City.
We uphold them where we think they’re right, and where we don’t think they’re right, we overturn it. Or maybe we only overturn part. Because a lot of times when someone is appealing what was done at the Planning Commission, they’re appealing several line items. And we’ll say, “OK, we think you can go ahead and do that, but we’re going to say you’ve got to do this.”
If I’ve got to say no to you, and I’ve known you for years, that’s really hard to do. So I want to at least make you feel like and know that you’ve been heard ” that you understand why we have to do it, and is there another way we can do this so that it’s win-win. But that’s me. Everyone is different.
These are all volunteers, and there are five different personalities on that Planning Commission and five different personalities on the City Council, and then there’s another half-dozen to dozen personalities that work at City Hall.
The Union: The city isn’t going have a planner, right? Should it?
McKay: He is still kind of finishing up, but basically by the end of this month we will not have a planner. And we should have. I would encourage replacing him. With the state budget, and with the state taking all of our money away, from not only us but everybody.. . . I mean, it’s amazing – we’re going to be getting about a $250,000 hit of money that’s always come to us and supposed to come to us. The state is saying, “We’re keeping it.”
It’s amazing how efficient cities like Nevada City or Grass Valley, small towns, are at running on a fixed, tight budget. We have to. We have no other option. I don’t know why the state doesn’t have that mindset. In my own personal business, I can only spend what I have, or I bounce checks.
The Union: The city is going to have deal with infrastructure costs, and it doesn’t particularly have a growing tax base. How do you see that developing in the next four years?
McKay: The state has asked everyone, whether it’s cities or counties, to have even higher levels of the water they release back into the natural source from their sewer treatment plant. And we have a state of the art plant that we put $5 million or something into 10 years ago. The water we put back into Deer Creek a lot is better than just the wild Deer Creek.
But there might be other things in it that aren’t in Deer Creek, whether it be phosphorus or things like that, and they’re talking parts per billion and stuff. We figured it was going to cost us another $5 million. Through hiring one of the best engineering consulting firms that will come up with how to filter even more particulates out, we’ve gotten it down from $5 million to $3.1 million by just sharpening the pencil and figuring out how to still meet the state guidelines and do it.
When we started out with this project, between the state and federal, we thought we were going to get at least 50 percent of it financed by them, like matching grants. By the time we got up to the trough, they said, oops, we’re out of money in that spending cycle. So we thought they’d put us at the front of the line for the next spending cycle. Well, we are pretty much at the front of the line, but now they’re only offering 25 percent of the money.
But there are other funding sources we are looking at. Both with Beryl, who was our city manager for 37 years as well as our new city manager, Mark Miller, the small budget forces you to count every penny, and counting it twice, and getting creative and a lot of volunteerism, a lot of people willing to volunteer their time.
We are being very proactive at retaining business in Nevada City. We’ve had Grass Valley Group that’s been there for years. And if you retain the businesses that are there, that attracts new businesses to come. If your businesses are leaving, people pick up on that – real estate people, whatever – and they don’t come.
About a year and a half ago we had a company called Quartz Inc. that’s from England. They came over and looked around the area and set up
their headquarters for the United States right here in Nevada City. I asked them at the opening – I was mayor at the time and went there for the ribbon cutting – why did you choose Nevada City? And they said, we do things that complement what Grass Valley Group produces. We’ve known them for a long time in the industry, and when we looked around the world for where were the hotspots for companies that produce things for TV broadcasting, this is one of the places in the world that ” if anyone is doing any kind of gidget or gadget for that industry ” it is here in the Nevada City-Grass Valley area of Nevada County.
So we’ve got that. And we have such wonderful mountain biking trails and stuff, single-track trails, all kinds of things in this county. It’s a Mecca for anyone in the United States to come to. We just recently had a man who had been in the Bay area with his company for 15 years who just moved to Nevada City. He manufactures very expensive, high-end bikes that racers buy, mountain bikes. Those are the kinds of things we are pursuing, trying to pursue the kinds of things that complement Nevada City, and that can bring point-of-sale tax dollars to Nevada City.
We’ve got a sphere of influence that goes out about to the Willo, and then it changes in shape because you start going uphill and you’ve got to get into pump stations and they’re hard to maintain. They’re very expensive to run. So that’s part of what has limited Nevada City’s growth. There are some things you can do – we’re a completely gravity-feed system for both our water and our sewer. Seven Hills School is called Seven Hills for a reason; we are built on seven hills. And I always think, how does that stuff get all the way to the sewer treatment plant. It just really boggles my brain. It’s really excellent engineering.
The Union: There’s been fear that the Deer Creek Park II near the city will be funneling a lot more traffic down Boulder Street. That street is in bad
shape, but we hear people are saying don’t fit it, because it will foster more traffic. Your thoughts?
McKay: I’ve walked that neighborhood and I know a lot of people who live over there. It’s at least a 2 to 1 ratio, if not a 3-1 ratio, of people that do
want that paved.
It’s two issues. One is paving it. You talk to the people that want it paved, and you go over and stand there – and I have, I’ve gone and photographed traffic. Even if you paved this, they could not go any faster without losing control and going right off the road. There’s no way physically they could go any faster.
And because it’s so rough, the amount of vibration that is happening, that old rock wall there, that raised sidewalk, is just falling apart. They are in fear of their houses falling apart. So there goes their investment.
My solution is to pave the road. And you can put down a special kind of asphalt that can take the vibration, especially with the trucks that come
down there. Then all we have to do is we have something that already exists, and that’s speed limits. They just need to be enforced.
And ideas like putting in those rubberized speed bumps. There’s one on French Street in Grass Valley. And there are other towns and cities around that use them very successfully. There’s a little resistance to that kind of thing.
The Union: Would you require more police to be able to monitor that?
McKay: I would start with looking at the police force we have and how they’re utilizing their time. They’re all wonderful people. It’s just, in any town, the police department is a sacred cow. No one wants to mess with them; they’re their own little institution. I’m not saying that’s good, bad or indifferent. I’m just saying our police department could be a lot more proactive.
I’ll give you the facts. We just got the most recent report for tickets handed out, and it was combined in a category of tickets for both equipment violations and speeding in one category: 367 tickets handed out for the whole year of 2003. For both equipment violations and speeding.
That’s about one a day. I can stand in front of anybody’s house anywhere in Nevada City and I could pull over five people an hour. So the figures are right there from their own reports. I’ll let them give whatever reasons they want of why it’s that low. One is they say we’re a tourist town and we don’t want to scare tourists away. This isn’t tourists. This is people like me, you, that just get in a hurry, or we’re late to getting our kids to school or whatever. We’re riding in cars that ride so comfortably you could be doing a 100 and you don’t feel the sensation of speed. We just have our minds on other things.
One good thing we’ve done with the police department, not quite a year ago I formed a traffic calming committee. [Police chief] Lou Travato is on that committee, along with [councilman] Conley Weaver and myself, and it’s growing, the number of citizens that are joining this committee. And I want citizen input here. It’s not just me, Dave McKay, because I’m on the council, telling the police chief what to do. It’s not about me; it’s about the people in Nevada City.
So we got that speed trailer – one of those trailers that tells you this is how fast you’re going. But it only seems to just go to Zion Street and Sacramento Street, which is a very busy street, but I rarely see it anywhere else. As I’ve been going door to door, I say, have you ever had our new speed trailer on your street? And they say no.
But besides that, I’ve lived here 25 years and I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen police on my street. If they would just come and park here, that would slow the traffic down. If they would come and pull someone over, and you would see those flashing lights . . .
Part of my career was taking my photography to arts and crafts shows on the streets around Northern California. Talking to the other vendors about your next show, you’ll mention a town and they will go, “Hey, be very careful because those guys will ticket you when you go one mile over the speed limit.” Because that’s where they get most of their revenue from, speed traps
Wouldn’t it be good to have a reputation in Nevada City, for the people of Nevada City? Because a lot of it is migration. You’ve got 3,000 people that live in Nevada City and 2,000 are registered voters. That tells you that there aren’t very many children. So the kids that go to our schools are from Banner Mountain, Ridge Road, Cascade Shores – they all come into Nevada City in the morning and then they leave. Then they come in the afternoon to pick up their kids and they leave. That’s a lot of traffic impact on Nevada City.
And they’ve all got busy lives and they’re going about, trying to get there as fast as they can. If they knew that we were serious about slowing our traffic down – because you can change speed limit laws, and that’s nothing. Fifteen miles an hour is he limit on West Broad. The amount of times I’ve witnessed the sheriffs going back out to the county building, going faster than 15, is . . . It’s one of those things that the laws are only as good as you enforce them.
The Union: Does crime, drug use and vandalism in Nevada City concern you?
McKay: Absolutely. Again, our police need to be more proactive. They need to be more responsive to the people calling, and take it seriously. That’s what they’re paid to do.
I grew up in East L. A., and I can imagine how hard it is to be a policeman in East L. A. because I lived there. I’m not saying that our police are lazy or anything like that; I am saying they could be a little more proactive. I have pushed for and we’ve asked the police to do a walking beat, down on that trail that starts from Cabin Street and goes under the freeway bridge and comes out at Kirby’s. It’s called the Rotary trail. You cross over, and then the trail continues on by the Old Brewery and comes out over on Nimrod and on to Pioneer Park. I used to walk that with my kids
all the time.
Most people won’t go there anymore because of all the transients that are hanging out there and living in their sleeping bags and drinking and stuff. I wouldn’t let my children go there by themselves anymore.
And the same even downtown. People complain about the kids hanging out. Well, kids hang out – we all hung out. When I moved up here, I hung out at Humpty Dumpty in Grass Valley when it was right there by Maria’s. We’d hang out in the parking lot and then we’d figure out well where are we going to party. When you have a rural area like this, not every kid fits into the football program or basketball. They don’t even know what they want to do; they’re kind of hang-out beasts, teenagers are.
But if we had the walking beat more consistently, they’d get to know those kids and they’d say, “Hey Joey, I know your mom wouldn’t like it if you were just hanging out, you ought to go do something.” That kind of a friendly kind of thing. And then you have your ear to the ground and you know where those meth labs are happening you can cut it off at the pass.
But you have to be involved in your community to know what’s going on in your community. I’m told that we don’t have enough staff. I myself don’t believe that; I really believe it’s a time-management issue.
The Union: We’ve been seeing more reports of break-ins of cars and homes.
McKay: That’s one of the things that happens as an area grows. You can’t put up some kind of gate and say only these kind of people can come into Nevada County or Nevada City. More people brings more crime.
One woman said, “I am fourth generation here. I love growth, I love meeting the new people, even though it brings more crime and in fact my husband was murdered by that crime. I still love it.” And I just double take on that. You would think at that point you’d be against having another person move into Nevada City. But that’s the way people feel.
So I don’t think we have to be a Gestapo, SWAT team, police-state type of thing. But I think we could have more presence of cruising around all the streets, so that those kind of people that see that and say, “Wait a minute ” my chances of getting caught are pretty good, because I’ve seen the police everywhere around here.”
The Union: Two of the other contending for the three seats on the council – Steve Cottrell and Ruth Poulter – say they need to be elected to counteract others ” including you ” who hold too much power over Nevada City. What is your reaction to that?
McKay: That’s a fantasy in their heads. There are no facts that substantiate that. All you have to do is watch our council meetings; there are five individuals up there. Tom Balch and I are so opposite; he’s very conservative, and I’m considered more liberal. And yet you can look in the record at how many times I’ve voted with Steve or Tom Balch.
The Union: And yet Steve has never been elected mayor.
McKay: We don’t get elected to be mayor; we get elected to serve the people of Nevada City. You’ve got 12 years of collective wisdom of councils; 14 different people have been on that council – men, women, conservative, liberal, moderate – and it only takes his vote and two more. Yet over 12 years of change ” because every two years there’s at least one person new on there ” through all of that, that collective wisdom, they have not chosen Steve as someone they felt that was what he would be good at. It doesn’t mean Steve’s not good at a lot of things at that table and for Nevada City, but . . . They’ve always tried to pin it on me, but he’s been around a lot longer than I was. So that’s his responsibility, not mine.
The Union: Back to Deer Creek Park II for a minute. The city has hired a lawyer to get involved in that.
McKay: Yes, and that was because of me. In the county, you’ve got bigger lot sizes. You’ve got larger minimum lot sizes. They will be an acre, three acres, five acres, 20 acres, like that. So the density is lower in the rural areas. And then you get to your cities – Nevada City, Grass Valley, Truckee – and you have higher density. You want to keep it like that so you can keep the open space, green space, things like that. Where the services are, water, sewer, fire, police, you focus it there.
It gets more expensive as you move out there, and you’ve got to drive a fire truck way out in the boonies to get to somebody’s house, or police, or anything. So the project there started out larger zoning, and he is trying to get it rezoned so it can have higher density there. He wants to put in about 200 homes there.
That’s going to be 2,000 vehicle trips coming down Boulder Street, and it’s already past failure rate and has been for years. It can’t handle any more traffic. You can’t widen it, because you would have to condemn all the houses on the lower part of Boulder there. I’ll tell you what, if you want to see a riot in Nevada City, that’ll definitely bring you a riot. So it’s not that I’m against the project. I mean, if it was a perfect world and that problem didn’t exist I’d say go for it, do it.
But then the 15- to 18-acre leach field that’s going to be within 100 feet of Little Deer Creek, our water source, we have to really protect that. We’ve got excellent water quality in Nevada City. Our raw water comes into a pond that we then collect from. That water, without treating it, meets the state standards, and yet we still treat it, just to make sure.
The Union: What issues haven’t we talked about that you want to be sure the readers hear about David McKay?
McKay: That I’m a person that really believes in listening to everyone. And there’s been many times when reporters over this four years have come to me before a council meeting and they’ve said, “So Dave, you’ve got this issue coming up on your agenda, how do you feel about it?” And I’ll tell them a little bit about how I feel. And then I get to the table and listen to everything and I make my decision. Instead of going this way, I go that way. And they’ll come up to me afterwards and say, “We really thought you were for this and for this reason.” And I said, “That’s because that’s all I knew about it. But once I had all the information, that changes.”
Sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe all of the information adds even more to how I see something. And it’s not about me. I have to go, “How do 3,000 people think about this?” Obviously, 3,000 different ways, probably. But overall, what’s the best decision for the people of Nevada City?
It’s not that I get elected and now it’s Dave McKay’s Nevada City. It’s not. It’s all those people’s. And I have to face those people in SPD, at church, in the schools, and teaching at Sierra College, wherever I go. And believe me, they let you know. It really keeps you honest. It really does.
It’s a volunteer position. I’ve worked with Steve at three different little newspapers in Nevada City over the years. The Mountain Messenger, Nevada City News and the Independent. Me as the photographer and him as the journalist. And Steve has his personality. I’m not sure why he continues the way he goes. But he just can be contrary sometimes, and I’m not sure why. For the life of me I cannot figure it out.
Because I’m just a real people person. I care about people and I’ll do anything to not hurt their feelings. But at the same time, I’m not going to be codependent in the sense that I’m not going to make a good decision because I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. It’s firmness with kindness, just like with your children or anyone ” being respectful and at the same time being firm.
Even before I came on the council, there’s always been this rumor about kingmaking and stuff. When I was coming on, everyone knew that Beryl would be retiring and so everyone figured Paul [Matson] wants to be the next city manager. He’s getting all these people elected to the council so he’ll have a sure bet. I talked to him about it later and said to him, “Paul, I keep getting these calls from people worried about if I get elected that I’m going to vote for you for city manager. Do you have any interest in that job at all?” And he goes, “Not one iota.”
But there are people who keep spreading those rumors. After I got elected and didn’t vote for Steve Cottrell for mayor that first time that I was elected, the reason I didn’t vote for him ” and I will say it right now so it hopefully ends this whole thing ” was because people that were staunch supporters of his either stopped by my house, called me up or sent me e-mails saying that if I didn’t vote for Steve, they were going to make life miserable for me.
I called Steve and said, “Steve, will you please tell your friends to just leave me alone. It’s like thanks but no thanks. This isn’t helping you, Steve.”
“Oh no, I don’t tell my friends what to do – they’re my friends, and there’s no way I will tell my friends what to do.” And I said, “If they were my friends, I’d say I really appreciate this warmness of how much you care about me and stuff, but you’re not helping me. Would you just back off, call Mr. McKay and apologize?”
Wouldn’t do it. Refused to do it. So when I got to that table, I just said the last thing I’m going to do is to be forced into or threatened. We don’t run for mayor, we run for City Council. It is the rest of those people showing belief in your leadership that gets you to be mayor.
I wish I could get my way more at the table, because I just feel that this is the right way to do something. But you go on the collective, how everyone feels, and when it’s done it’s done. In my four years, I’ve never called up The Union and said, “I think this is rotten the way this came out, and I want an article.” I’ve never done that. Because when the vote’s done, the vote’s done and I move on.
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