Our Community’s Future Is On The Line

Our local lefty blogger states the obvious in a recent post at the Sierra Foothills Report.

Now we’re competing against North Auburn, including a Walmart, Costco — and maybe — a Trader Joe’s. It’s going to take real pragmatic thinking in our community, not just a pro-development religion, to help us succeed. Our community’s future is on the line.

It was inevitable that we would someday arrive at this point when the toiling of our local stasis cohort came to fruition. The circumstance the community finds its self in was launched in the late 1990s when the County General Plan was undated and later the implementing polices and regulations were put on the books under the guidance of the Green Gang of Four and their fellow travelers in the progressive community and on the County staff.  Their mission was to forever insure “big box” stores would never be allowed in Nevada County. Under their guidance we were to forever be a quiet rural community in the foothills, where liberals could bask our mining past, breath unattained air, all the while relishing our environmental sustainability.  Fantasy land!

Now we are living with the consequences. Over the years I wrote about these consequences in Union Other Voices, paid Union columns and for the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber Magazine. Mostly to a small audience who understood the issues, and set about to remove the Gang of Four.  But, once they are gone could not change the County staff as quickly.  Unfortunately, the changes embedded in the General Plan and the Zoning Regulations were too big of a challenge to change, either though the lack of political will, or knowing full well that when the economic manure hit the fan, it would not be on their watch.

Well, the fan is in place and the barrow of steaming manure is posed on the edge of the ramp, and our leaders are coming to the realization the communities economic future is on the line.  In the early 90s the economic leakage (people shopping out side the community) was $40 million, then $80 million and once the Galleria Mall, Costco and Walmart opened in Roseville and Home Depot and Target came to Auburn the leakage shot up to over $150 million and now is estimated to be over $200 million. When Costco and Walmart, and maybe even a Trader Joe’s, arrive just 35 minutes across our southern border in Auburn, the leakage may double, or it could triple.

Millions of tax dollars that could be flowing into Nevada County City and County coffers will be enriching  Placer County Governments and they will have the tax revenue to make shopping in Auburn even more attractive.

Combine that with the growing Internet shopping trend, when Nevada County citizens can shop from the comfort of their homes and have the products delivered to their doors, no hauling stuff in from the car, no trying to find parking, no driving on slick roads, and not having to deal with indifferent service staff in local shops.  As more local shops close due to Auburn competition, Internet shopping will increase as the selection and availability declines in local shops.  No need to drive to Auburn, just log in and have the product delivered the next day for a small fee, or free the following day, at prices much lower than they would had to pay if shopping locally.

The challenges facing local leaders is huge. They are already struggling with declining revenues and the future is looking bleaker and bleaker, once the “big box” stores open on the Southern boarder of the County.

Solutions?  The time for solutions was back in the 1990s and early 2000s. We are now past the tipping point, on the cusp of an economic death spiral for the community.  Out liberal former editor is right “Our community’s future is on the line.”

What is your solution?

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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3 Responses to Our Community’s Future Is On The Line

  1. Dena says:

    Several attempts have been made to sell groceries over the internet and they have failed. Way to much cost and you have to wait for them to be delivered when you could just go out and get them yourself. I buy from amazon because I discovered that book stores weren’t interested in selling be the odd ball book I wanted. I was even willing to wait for it to be ordered but they wouldn’t look it up on the computer. Ever try to buy a big package to toilet paper or a 25 pound of flour at your local store? This and lower prices are why I shop Costco and Sam’s club. I do go to local stores when the have the selection and some local stores provide more service which I am willing to pay for.

    In short, you need selection, service and a price that is reasonable but it doesn’t have to be the lowest. This will draw people to your local stores.


  2. stevefrisch says:

    By the way, another strategy to be thinking about is to jump over the traditional ‘retail’ model and go directly to the on-line model for retail (like third world countries are jumping over hard line technology for phones and going straight to cellular technology). .

    Right now on-line sales are about 8% of the total retail market, with another 45% of sales being influenced by on-line communications (reviews, web sites, links, QR code comparison apps, etc.). On-line sales are currently increasing by about .05% per year and expected to accelerate; at that rate in 20 years more than 50% of sales will be on-line, and much of it in the very sectors that ‘big-box’ stores specialize in, like consumer electronics, apparel, groceries, and dry goods.

    The impact on traditional retail will be huge as former big box purveyors switch to online sales and bricks and mortar big boxes lose their profit margin.

    Local retail is expected to shift to specialty retail; unique goods, high value and ‘one off’ goods that consumers want to see before they buy, goods that require some service component, and highly perishable goods.

    Russ, I suspect we may be on the same page there as well?


  3. stevefrisch says:

    Russ, I might agree to some extent with your thesis, that development of retail commercial property was the solution to economic stagnation in rural Sierra communities, if I had not had the experience of seeing the exact opposite dynamic occur in a few other places.

    I will point for example to my neck of the woods on the other side of the Sierra massif. Truckee voted to incorporate largely because of a Nevada County decision to entitle a big box commercial development (K-Mart) at the corner of I-80 and Donner Pass Road just east of our historic downtown. Once Truckee incorporated K-Mart puled out, Truckee processes a general plan that restricted big box development, and instituted a 40,000 square foot cap on commercial building size. Yet Truckee thrived, incomes rose, development of residential and commercial properties continued, and local government revenues rose.

    Now I would be the first to admit that Truckee has some other unique assets, like closer access to stellar outdoor recreation opportunities, but to at least some degree those are opportunities that all Sierra communities have.

    I think the problem with your thesis is that were so many other ‘externalities’ at play between the late 80s and the early 2000’s that it is almost impossible to say that big box development policy is ‘the reason’ economies have stagnated in many Sierra communities.

    There were massive structural changes in the American economy as technology revolutionized business, the population was aging as the baby boom aged, manufacturing collapsed, world markets for timber changed with the opening of western Canada and southeast Asia to global markets. In 1980 28% of American jobs were ‘goods producing’ in 2010 12% were ‘goods producing’. I believe that there has also been a long term disinvestment by government in infrastructure in rural economies, to our great same. A strong case could be made that what happened in much of the rural Sierra tracked what happened in rural America in general due to larger structural change.

    Your thesis also assumes that IF Nevada County had been more welcoming to ‘big box’ development that the market would have existed for them to locate in western Nevada County. Having studied the business model and market analysis for big box development over the years I am not sure that Nevada County had the population base (and may not still) to support this style of development. Big box development in Auburn will capture market from an area all the way down to Penryn, up to Grass Valley/Nevada City and up the I-80 corridor to Gold Run or beyond…..a much larger core population base to draw from than if they were located in Grass Valley.

    Finally, I wonder how the ‘Gang of Four’ blame game really works out? The General Plan was approved in 1996. If I remember correctly the Nevada County BOS in 1996 was comprised of Christine Foster, Rene Antonson, Karen Knecht, Fran Grattan and Sam Dardick. In other words, it was a majority conservative Board. There was a ‘progressive’ majority on the Nevada County BOS for all of 4 years during the last 20 years, roughly between 2000-2004. That was a DECADE AGO. If the Board wished to change the General Plan after 2004 they could have.

    Frankly, the composition of the decision making body in Grass Valley was much more important to the case you are making than the Nevada County BOS–it is likely any big box development would have been there.

    Ironically, although I may disagree with portions of your thesis here, I think we agree on many of the ‘solutions’ to turning this trend around: invest in and improve education with an emphasis on STEM, vocational and technical job training, broadband …broadband…broadband, core infrastructure investment in roads-sewers-water systems-schools, more housing (I would prefer it in incorporated communities and walkable neighborhoods), and creating a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in our communities.


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