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NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 18, 2018 – An individual board member request by District 3 Supervisor Dan Miller caused much discussion among Nevada County’s five supervisors and will come back to the BOS for final approval. Miller’s item was unusual as it pertained to a project on Brunswick Road within Grass Valley’s jurisdiction. Moreover, the request has the potential to create a precedent likely to cause revenue loss for the county, besides costing taxpayers’ money.
Adding to the ad hoc “planning” from the dais, Miller also proposed to waive the easement abandonment fee, pay for the developer’s LAFCo and BOE fees, have Public Works remove pavement from 5,736 sq ft of county right of way on Town Talk Road and add the land at no cost to the existing parcel.
Individual board member items generally are benign requests to support state legislation, recognize a resident for their contributions to the community or declare a certain date to be [insert your favorite event] day. These non-controversial requests are an opportunity for a supervisor to highlight people and happenings in their district, or express support for legislation benefiting our area.
Requesting developer fees be waived, giving away county property and taxpayer money appears to be a far cry from Nevada County’s mission “To work with the community to develop sound and innovative public policy, provide strong leadership and deliver excellent services in a fiscally responsible manner.”
River Valley Community Bank, a Yuba City-based bank, is constructing a 3,500 sq. ft. bank and a 1,500 sq. ft. retail/office building at 580 Brunswick Road. The 1.79-acre parcel is owned by Holzworth Clinton C. & Joji C., et al of Benicia. “The property will be subdivided into three (3) parcels: Parcel 1 (46,733 square feet) will accommodate the 3,500 sf bank and all of the parking area; Parcel 2 (2,997 square feet) will accommodate the 1,450 sf lease space; and Parcel 3 (28,165 square feet) is proposed as a remainder parcel which will remain undeveloped at this time,” according to the application filed with the City of Grass Valley.
Realigning Town Talk Road, to provide an additional access/egress for the bank would require Nevada County to remove 5,736 sq ft of pavement and transport the debris to a storage location. The County’s easement abandonment fee is $ 1,214.07 not including the cost of removal, creatively defined by Miller as ‘soft cost’ of approximately $5,000. Abandoning the portion of the road would then require an annexation into the city limits. Annexations are done by LAFCo, a state agency, with the associated fees being approximately $2,500 and require payment of $300 to the Board of Equalization (BOE).
The project engineer for the developer is SCO Planning and Engineering located in Grass Valley and the Wallis Design Studio, also out of Grass Valley, is the architecture firm.
No policy, no precedent, no traffic study, no documented accidents but… safety!
Miller had trouble explaining why this project, spearheaded by SCO’s Martin Wood was worthy of setting a precedent. “It’s really an unsafe intersection at Bubbling Wells and Town Talk Road going onto Brunswick,” Miller stated in his opening remarks, then added “We have no accident history at the intersection.” He claimed residents of Bubbling Wells complained about unsafe conditions, citing a significant potential for accidents, but again, no documented accidents.
There is no policy to waive fees for a development in the unincorporated area of the county, much less within another jurisdiction’s area. Miller explained Nevada County’s Public Work had commented on Grass Valley’s request for comments and suggested a traffic study or a realignment of Town Talk Road as a condition of approval.
Grass Valley’s Planning Department disagreed with the county’s estimate of daily trips the bank and business would generate and did not require the applicant to conduct a traffic study. They noted in their responses to the comments their traffic estimates assumes another 2,500 sq. ft office to be developed on Parcel 3 – the same parcel that would include the “donated” 5,736 sq. ft. portion of Town Talk Road.
“What we’re looking at is unusual, the County doesn’t have an official policy of waiving fees. But the bank approached me and asked me because of the cost and the public benefit… if the county would waive fees and what would be considered soft cost…” Miller said.
Fixing appearances – on the dais
Supervisor Hank Weston, who at first didn’t appear to favor the project, tried to fix the issue while sitting on the dais and probably forgot about the lone reporter in the room and the cameras live-streaming the whole meeting.
“So, if we want to eliminate this issue of precedent and we accept the fact that it is a benefit – safety-wise – then you don’t talk about waiving fees. You don’t talk about that, you say ‘as a partnership’ because that what is says in the staff report… a public-private partnership. We want to provide x amount for future safety cost… and just do it that way. Without doing all this waiving and getting all this precedent stuff stuck. Just deal with it. The $5,000 for the removal of the asphalt that would be something… I guess they would have to put a budget amendment in that we would take care of internally. It seems to me that the City of Grass Valley, if they support this, should handle the LAFCo cost. But, if we just create a grant, some mechanism that you give River City Bank.. we take care of the $5,000 we give them $4,000 for a public-private partnership and they do whatever they want with it… then you haven’t set precedent, you just granted a partnership. Then you don’t have to worry about somebody coming back and saying ‘but you granted that.’ You can say ‘No we created that for a future safety partnership.’”
Miller was eager to agree with the solution, saying “It would almost be like a reimbursement agreement, where they would handle…” Weston interrupted with “We don’t care what they do. We just give them an amount, they deal with it.”
Supervisor Heidi Hall was skeptical: “That would set a precedent Hank, I think you’re still stuck in that place.”
Weston retorted ” I don’t know. Maybe. At least you’re not talking about anything in any kind of a resolution about waiving fees and/or paying for LAFCo’s cost. You’re not doing that.”
Two different cultures
The exchange is emblematic of the different views represented on the BOS. District 5 Supervisor Richard Anderson, repeatedly pointed to the absence of any policy for waiving fees for one developer and cautioned against ad hoc precedent setting decisions. At one point he asked if staff had received an application for the quit-claim for the right of way from the applicant. “We have not received any application at this time, it’s just been discussed,” was the response. When Anderson asked if staff would recommend approving such a claim, County Counsel explained that no research had been done at this point. Normally, the county would research and confirm ownership of the land underneath the easement and confer with utility companies to check if they had any objections. Therefore at this time they could not recommend approval.
Not quite a done deal
In the end, by a 3-2 vote with Anderson and Hall voting No, the BOS directed staff to bring back an agreement to partner with River Valley Bank on the realignment project of Town Talk Road, with all the requested benefits for the project – including the land. Chair Ed Scofield, who cast the deciding vote, will have to re-agendize Dan Miller’s request for final approval.
SCO Engineering’s owner is a Director of the Nevada County Contractors Association and is shepherding the project through the various agencies. Miller received campaign donations in excess of $5,000 from the Contractors’ PAC, among other contributions. Access the campaign finance data here. Failing to disclose this while asking his four colleagues to support an unprecedented sweetheart deal does not pass the smell test – in my opinion.
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