The Union roundtable: Dean Williams
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Atlanta, moved as a young child to the Bay Area, was raised in the Bay Area and lived there as a young adult. I’ve mostly been a bookkeeper professionally. In 1999, the company I was working for as an office manager moved to this area, and I moved with the company. So that’s my main job right now.
What company is that?
It’s called Objective Insights. It’s a group of four people that offer business consultant services for the health-care industry.
How old are you, and do you have a family?
I’m 47 and I’m not married.
You’ve been involved in politics before.
When I lived in the Bay Area, I wasn’t involved in local politics at all. But what I experienced growing up in the Bay Area – I actually grew up in Sunnyvale, a part of Silicon Valley, and so I saw the transformation from orchards to Silicon Valley and it was pretty dramatic. My particular neighborhood had a lot of cherry trees and apricot trees.
So when I moved here I saw this was a great place and I was aware of how a place could change dramatically, and I just became interested in getting involved. I realized I could make a difference here, and I became involved quickly after I moved here, without having had any idea that I would ever be involved in local politics.
Did you find that it was fairly easy to become involved?
Well, 1999 was the year the General Plan was updated in Grass Valley. And that General Plan had some features to it that made some of the public upset. And at that time an organization called Grass Valley Neighbors was formed.
Tell us about Grass Valley Neighbors.
It was formed in reaction to the General Plan update. My experience with the people who have come to meetings is that it represents a broad range of people on the issues of growth. On one end there are people who would like to tear out the freeway and not have any growth. And on the other end there are people who are comfortable with all four of the special development areas being annexed but they’re concerned about how they’re going to be developed.
The one thing we all have in common is that we’re concerned about the path that the General Plan lays out for us, which is 4,000 acres added to the city by the year 2020 and the city right now is only 2,600 acres. So even though there is a wide range of opinion of people within the group we’re all concerned that if we were to follow the General Plan and grow as much as it allows, that would be bad for the city.
You ran for council in 2000 and lost?
Yes. There were seven candidates.
Barring any write-ins, there are only three this time. Why?
The Union picked up on one of Steve Enos’ quotes, using the word “blood sport” about politics, and that has to be it.
Has it gotten worse in recent years?
The last four years have been bad. The NH2020 issue – people became very polarized. I didn’t go to the NH2020 meetings because I just didn’t have the stomach for it. Because I knew it was just people ranting and raving. There were people getting up there and being rude to the politicians and not respecting a difference of opinion. I can understand people not wanting to be in that position, being treated that way. They’re volunteering their time for the benefit of the city and not getting paid much.
But that hasn’t deterred you from giving it another shot?
For some reason I’m not too worried about how the public is going to treat me. I expect there will be nasty letters in The Union and people may say nasty things to me in meetings and on the street, but for some reason I’m not too worried about that. I don’t quite know why.
You’re able to separate the public from the personal?
I don’t think I’d take it personally.
What are the key issues you’re talking about as you go door to door?
The key issue for my campaign is the special development areas. And the platform – the position I’m taking – I would vote to approve no more than one of the four during my four years in office.
What if two are good or three are good – you’re only going to bless one? What if none of them are any good?
I’m prepared to not pick any. There might be several that are designed well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are in the best interests of the city overall.
Because of the General Plan, the growth issue?
The impacts that come with growth, with any well-designed project. Each house is going to have one or more cars that come with it, so just the traffic issue by itself. Then there’s crime and other things that come with growth, with even well-designed projects.
We should meet what the state is requiring of us as a city, and that is through the year 2009 to add 1,448 homes to the city. That’s my approach to how fast we should grow. And that’s different than the approach the General Plan lays out. The strategy that the city is taking is that we should accommodate all the growth that the market demands. And that’s not the approach I’m taking.
Isn’t there a specific number in the General Plan already?
There are some specific numbers but ” well, I think what you’re saying is, the four developers are asking for greater density than is in the General Plan, so there would have to be a General Plan update, or several updates.
Possibly with the Bear River Mills site there wouldn’t have to be a General Plan update. But since the General Plan allows 4,000 acres to be added to the city by the year 2020, basically that’s just opening the door wide and saying that whatever market demand there is, the city’s position is that we will try to accommodate.
Members of our Reader Circle contributed some questions. Here is one related to growth: “What actually is smart growth development? How does it apply to the four current developments proposed for Grass Valley? Whose property rights do you protect, the developer’s or the individual’s, when a development may cause the loss of property through eminent domain?”
We have two good examples of smart growth right here in our community. One is downtown Nevada City and the other is downtown Grass Valley. And the thing that is nice about those two areas is that people, if they so choose, can live near where they work, they can live near where their children go to school, they can walk to restaurants, the movie theater, and buy some of the things they need, walk down to Safeway in Grass Valley. So it gives people the option of being less dependent upon their automobile, and that’s one of the main goals of smart growth.
There are some other things that were not incorporated into historic growth patterns. And I mean historic growth patterns both after the federal highway system was constructed and before, including going back to 1860 ” ideas that people have come up with in the last 10 or 10 years that are not a part of our local community, and we could include some of those principles for design in any of the new areas that we build and that would be good, and the goals of these new concepts are also to help people enjoy their lives and be less connected to their automobile.
Another reader question: “What would you do to ease the polarity in our county? Philosophical extremes seem to use up energy that could go to other things, and our county suffers. How might you bring us together to use your talents and energy for the good of everyone?”
The Grass Valley City Council actually has a reputation of being civil with each other, the members of it, compared to the Board of Supervisors and possibly Nevada City. I don’t get cable, so I haven’t been watching what’s going on in Nevada City.
One of the things I want to do is I want to get along well with the other city council members and set an example for how to deal with political issues in a reasoned and civil way. And we are going to have a wide range of opinion on the Grass Valley City Council. I know Gerard Tassone and Patti Ingram, and I know the other two candidates – I don’t know them all well, but I know them as acquaintances – and I respect them and I’m interested in listening to what they have to say. I think I know them well enough to know that they’re going to listen to me, and I’m really looking forward to that.
I’m looking forward to working with the others and I want the city council to have interesting, long discussions on critical issues and have the people watch us over cable TV and sit in the audience, and then when their time comes to participate in that, and have things be civil.
How would you characterize your leadership style?
Well, what are my choices for style? I would be a good listener. I don’t think I would be bombastic – I’d like to think that my style would be to focus on the facts. Sometimes they get lost, and as people are forming their decisions, their opinions get disconnected from the facts. So I would like the people to be connected to the facts. Basically my style would be the same as my personality, which is pretty low key.
Grass Valley seems to be right in the middle of a lot of issues having to do with traffic “the Idaho-Maryland-East Main issue, the Dorsey Drive interchange issue, the Brunswick Basin. Can you give us your thoughts about the direction that has gone, and look at the future?
It’s a messy situation. If you look back, we didn’t start collecting mitigation fees until sometime in the 1990s and so now we’re in the hole financially. We have quite a long list of intersections that need to be improved, roads that could be widened to help improve traffic, and areas that need bike lanes. Lots of money that could be spent that we don’t have to make things better. So we’re in this pickle now.
One approach – and the approach that is being put forward by the Nevada County Transportation Commission – is to have this 20-year plan, and as we grow to bring in mitigation fees and pay for all the improvements we need. This is also the approach that is being put forward by the Nevada County Contractors’ Association. They’ve been running some ads in The Union that say, “Did you know that traffic improvement is on the way and being paid for by. . .” – I forget exactly the wording – by new developments.
You could also make the argument that they have already been paid for, and wonder where that mitigation money has gone. There has been a traffic signal paid for several times at the intersection of Idaho-Maryland and Railroad, for example, by four or five different developers.
On that particular example, I don’t know the details. I would be interested knowing whether that money was siphoned off to non-traffic related issues or if it’s still sitting there.
Is that money going into a general fund and can be spent as needed on other things?
I hope that’s not happening. It would have been better if back in the ’60s we would have started collecting mitigation fees and so by this time we wouldn’t be in this hole. I think the plan is fundamentally counter-intuitive that we are going to grow out of our traffic problems by collecting fees from new development.
I’m going to remain with an open mind and allow people to try to convince me that this is going to work. But it’s counter-intuitive to me, and I expect it is to most people. Is this what is happening in other cities? They’re growing their way out of their traffic problems? What is happening is they’re growing their way into their traffic problems. So I approach this strategy with cynicism.
But take business as an example. You need the sales tax money to pay the bills. So unless you offer incentives for businesses to grow and prosper, you are not going to have the money to do all the things you do. The government should not be adversarial. They should say, you want to make an investment in your business? What can we do to help you make it happen? Rather than, we’ll tell you ten reasons why you can’t do it.
I’m all for supporting businesses that want to expand. And obviously at times push comes to shove. We’ve got the Idaho Maryland-East Main intersection that’s at level-of-service F right now. If a business wants to expand onto a site that feeds that intersection, it’s a difficult thing to balance.
And if he’s willing to pay. It wouldn’t be a problem right now if the city had done what they should have done with the money, instead of building a $4 million reserve, or whatever the city has today. What is the city waiting for?
I think the city is lining up the money to fix the three related problems. That intersection, the freeway weave and the intersection of Neal and South Auburn.
My perspective is that the Nevada County Transportation Commission and the City of Grass Valley both have a long list of improvements to make, and in the case of the NCTC there is only about 10 percent of the funds right now available to do it. It’s not that they don’t want to make improvements; it’s just that they don’t have the money. I can’t explain that situation. I’m not familiar enough with it.
Another issue is affordable housing. Grass Valley seems to be taking the brunt of the expectations of providing affordable housing. Nevada City says we don’t have room for it.
And the county doesn’t have a sewage treatment plant like the city has.
So the recent report to the task force about workforce housing issues seems to be a step forward. Your thoughts about Grass Valley and affordable housing or workforce housing?
We’ve had a difficult time in the county building truly affordable housing. To make it truly affordable, there would have to be government subsidies coming from somewhere, and that’s been a very difficult proposition. It’s a more practical approach to try to make things work in the free market.
To do that, we need to build units with a smaller number of square feet, and that just makes them more affordable. And we need to put these units near where there is already infrastructure. I was looking at the baseline report – phase one of the report about the SDAs. I figured out that between now and 2009 we would need to annex about 44 acres to the city to have enough room to build housing to meet the state’s requirement.
So that’s one of the reasons I am open to at least one of the SDAs being built, is because that’s the fairly near future, five years, and we’re going to need some land, and I think the main reason we need it is for housing.
Do you have any idea which of the four?
At the moment I have a slight preference for Loma Rica. The nice thing about Loma Rica is its geographical location. It’s located between Nevada City and Grass Valley and right next to Brunswick Basin. So it has the potential, if it’s designed well, to be a place where people would move to and be less automobile dependent than the other three SDAs.
In addition to its geographical location, the developer of it, Phil Carville, owns health club facilities, and part of his intent is to have health club facilities at Loma Rica. Plus it’s 450 acres. He’s planning on developing about 50 of it and leaving the rest as either open space or developed for active recreation like soccer fields.
So you put all that together and you end up with a place where people who like to be outdoors, who are active, would enjoy living there and would actually, if there were walking trails and bike trails that connected to Brunswick Basin and the two cities, they would use them. So that site has the potential of having less impact on traffic than the other three.
The problem you see with Kenny Ranch, for example, is funneling that traffic straight down Main Street?
Right. I was looking over the potential solutions to the traffic on Main Street and none of them are good. We’re going to have to make a decision, even if that decision is to do nothing, which is one of the bad options. But there’s turning Main Street and Richardson into one-way couplet; there’s having a sales tax increase; there’s having special assessment districts and putting signals at Church Street and I guess Alta – a couple of new signals there.
The only solution to that project seems to be is to take Squirrel Creek Road all the way to Highway 20 somehow.
I’m interested in seeing that. I really don’t like the bypass idea for Pleasant Street, because that would send a lot of traffic through a neighborhood which already has a traffic problem. I’d like to see what the options are for other bypass routes and see if any of them have minimal impacts and don’t cost.
In other words, you’re saying that until there’s an alternative to feeding traffic down Main Street from that project, Kenny Ranch is probably not going to happen?
Well, last night for the first time I was thinking about this. Let’s say that the long term goal is to create a bypass, which would be good because a lot of the traffic that’s going through downtown, the destination is not downtown, they’re just trying to get through to where they’re going.
So ideally that would be a good solution. So what would we do in the short term? A lot of people don’t want more traffic signals downtown. And I know a lot of people are against the one-way couplet. But last night I was thinking for the first time that this could be a cheap, temporary fix. I’d like to hear the arguments against it.
Which one would be which direction?
Well, I assume that because Richardson is so steep that you’d want the uphill traffic going up there, going up to Alta and then cutting over. What I was reading from the street system master plan was that it dramatically improves the flow of traffic if you do that one-way couplet.
If there were one thing you would want to accomplish if elected to a four-year term on the council, what would it be?
Can I pick two?
OK, pick two.
Since 1999, for one reason or another, this city has not been making any decisions that would limit growth. The General Plan opened the door wide, and there have been a few opportunities since then for the city council to start making the critical decisions, and they haven’t. So I’m hoping that starting with this campaign to get people focused on how many of the SDAs there are – and that seems like a basic first step in making critical decisions.
And then I hope to influence whatever is built. I want to have some say in how the projects are designed, because I’m aware of what I was mentioning before about some of the design concepts that are starting to be practiced in other communities that really can help limit the traffic impacts of new projects. And so far, none of the four are doing everything they could to incorporate these concepts.
Grass Valley, just like everywhere else in the county, is plagued by the methamphetamine problem. Is there anything the council can do to help? Your influence as a councilman would be to the police chief. Does the police chief serve at the will and pleasure of the council?
I’m not sure, but I think he works directly for the city council.
Do you think that by and large the police department in Grass Valley is doing a good job?
My opinion is unformed. I hear both – I hear complaints and I hear praises. And I really don’t know what to think. I know that 56 percent of the city’s budget goes towards public safety, so that’s a huge chunk. So we’re doing what we can in that regard.
Is public safety a big issue when you talk to the folks as you’re knocking door to door?
It is not. People seem to feel safe, generally.
What haven’t we covered that you think it’s important for people to know about?
We’ve covered the things that are most important – the two things I want to accomplish. They’re the reason I’m running and the reason that being on the city council would have meaning for me.
What kind of skills would you bring to the council?
It’s nothing that I haven’t said already before – I think I’ll be well prepared on the issues.
You have a finance background, correct?
I’m working now as an office manager, but that’s mainly being a bookkeeper and that’s what I’ve done.
But if you looked at a budget, you’d understand what you were looking at?
Well, I would understand it better than most people. Actually, Mark Johnson, who is also a candidate, he majored in accounting. I’ll be well prepared on the issues, I’ll be open minded and I think I’ll listen. I’d like to think that the direction I want to lead the city in terms of growth, as far as I can tell, is where the majority of the city is at, the majority of the residents.
Is that what you’re hearing as you’re knocking on doors?
I have knocked on a lot of doors, between the year 2000 and now, and every Friday night each summer I’m on Mill Street, having a group there. And then there was the community assessment project. If you go in there and look at the questions and how people answered those questions, it seems pretty clear to me that when it comes down to this push-and-shove situation that we get into sometimes between the local economy and quality of life, people are more concerned about their quality of life being diminished than anything else.
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