Attention Grass Valley city residents! Your city officials want your input on fire resiliency and vegetation mitigation at a Town Hall this coming Tuesday evening. This is your chance to get more (and more accurate) information compared to what you might find on social media.
Before you show up, you are likely to get many of your questions answered by watching the YouTube video of last Tuesday’s (September 26) Grass Valley City Council meeting.
It’s easy to find. At YouTube.com, search “City of Grass Valley” and pick the 1:53:32-minute City Council Meeting where you can see Council members. Or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i24A9fQz3TY. Once it starts, drag the right end of the red line to jump to the 23-minute mark (skipping all the administrative stuff) for the fire-related presentation.
I was unable to attend Tuesday evening, but after watching the meeting recording online, I came away with a completely different perspective on the city’s proposal (and had to completely re-write this piece).
Note to city: You need to begin Tuesday’s Town Hall with Chief Buttron presenting the Powerpoint. It should make a difference in how residents will respond and the questions they will ask.
When Council members had a chance a comment or ask questions, Hilary Hodge lamented that few people were attending or watching the city meetings or watching the online recordings, and she didn’t know what could be done to make people really pay attention.
Well, here’s a big reason why so few are responding: the agenda for the meeting was in the required formal government Meeting Agenda style, meaning it was dull and mostly uninformative. The topic, under the Administrative section, read, “Public meeting to continue the discussion of Fire Resiliency and Vegetation Management and an acceptable level of risk relating to wildfires and extreme weather conditions.”
How exciting. Wouldn’t you definitely want to be there if you’d seen that agenda in advance? (I can’t remember how any advance notices in local media read, but they were probably very similar.)
Continuing in the required bureaucratic format, the staff’s “Recommendation” for this, the MAIN PART of the ENTIRE CITY COUNCIL MEETING, was that Council “receive additional information from staff relating to Fire Resiliency and Vegetation Management…; present and receive input on some very conceptual expenditure plans…; gain additional input from the community…; and review a schedule of next steps….”
BORING! But even worse, it left out the main news: GV Fire Chief Buttron and a Battalion Chief had a colorful Powerpoint presentation answering many questions the city had received from the public. And it was excellent.
I understand that by law, a City Council meeting agenda must be published three days in advance of the meeting and must follow the required format. Staff preparing the agenda may not have known whether Chief Buttron’s Powerpoint would be ready in time. But if anyone wonders why the public isn’t showing up, I’d say it’s because the City has a lot to learn about public communication in a world of shortened attention spans and social media.
When Mayor Jan Arbuckle asked for a copy of the Chief’s presentation so that she could more readily absorb and retain the information, City Manager Tim Kiser replied that a printed copy would be left in each councilmember’s mailbox. It clearly sounded as if this would not have happened if Arbuckle hadn’t asked for it.
Hello? The Powerpoint should have been uploaded to the city’s website the next day, since it has key data to explain why more funding is being sought. But based on how long it took to get Measure E information on the website, I’m guessing that every website change is either jobbed out to the Sacramento website developer or that internal city staffing challenges prevent more timely changes.
But back to next Tuesday’s public meeting, which the City Council and staff hope will get a large turnout. I have a few more questions that I hope can be answered there:
- Does Consolidated Fire District have two firefighters per engine, or three? How about the local Cal Fire engines?
- Are there other sources of revenue that would meet the proposed needs without a new tax? How much more will the city make in sales tax revenue now that Target has opened? Can some Measure E fire funds be re-directed to more personnel or to vegetation mitigation, now that it has already funded new vehicles and a new ladder truck for the fire department?
- Why did the City not support the County’s Measure V, which would have provided funds directly to the City for vegetation mitigation?
I’m not unalterably opposed to the proposed tax, but I don’t automatically support it, either. It is a BIG ask, especially since it’s proposed as a general tax, the City has been historically opaque on how sales tax monies are spent (see comment above about the website), and “Citizen Oversight” seems less than rigorous (according to the website, the Measure E Oversight Committee meets every June).
Come to the Town Hall at the Sierra College Multi-Purpose Room (Building N12, with free parking) on Tuesday, Oct. 2 from 6-8 p.m. to bring your own questions and possibly hear the City’s response to some of mine. (It’s short notice, but one can always hope.)
Susan Freas Rogers is a 23-year Grass Valley City resident and a six-year co-leader of the Nevada County Coalition of Firewise Communities.