Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some observations post-Measure N

When times are tough, or something threatens to shake up the local power structure, the nasty dogs come out in force. Just look at how people are reacting to the narrow election margin on Measure N, the Gold Rush referendum.

The final vote count put the Yes folks up 16 votes. The No folks, the No on Measure N committee of Preserve Historic Sutter Creek, have requested a recount.

This should not be a big deal. Recounts are pretty normal for close elections, and just part of the process. Remember that certain presidential election a few years ago?

But some of the pro-Gold Rush folks have gone ballistic (see the comments on the Amador Ledger-Dispatch website.) They’re attacking PHSC, individual PHSC members, and anyone else they consider to be an opponent of the type of sprawling super-sized subdivision Gold Rush represents.

They’re also dredging up history – and getting their facts wrong in the process. They’re attacking me for the actions of a family to which I’m not related (apparently spelling is not their strong suit). They’re attacking the Foothill Conservancy for being the same as Protect Historic Amador Waterways, which if it weren’t so wrong would be sorta funny, considering that PHAW actually sued the Conservancy at one point.

You’d think the narrow vote on Measure N would give people pause. After all, it does show that a substantial number of Sutter Creek voters are opposed to the Gold Rush project as approved. Remember, we’re talking 16 votes. The Sutter Creek City Council and pro-GR folks should be thinking long and hard about that. If anything, they represent only the barest of majorities on this issue.

To their credit, the Gold Rush developers’ response has been rather subdued. They’re not out celebrating in the streets, gloating, or attacking the Sutter Creek residents who voted No. Instead, they’re inviting them to talk. It’s a nice gesture, and ought to be a sign to their attack dogs to back off. But it’s also relatively meaningless, since they’ve never before responded to the concerns of that strong near-majority (or maybe an actual majority) who oppose Gold Rush.

And of course, the developers spent about $140,000 on the election, compared to the approximately $5,000 PHSC spent. Plus, they’ve been knocking on doors and selling their project to locals for what, eight years? I think the close margin was a surprise to them. If I were them, I’d be sober, too.

It amazes, but does not surprise me to see PHSC accused of “dividing Sutter Creek.” If anyone has divided the town, it’s the developers and council members who ignored the sincere concerns of a substantial number of local residents over the last few years. They could have listened and made an effort to work out a project everyone could live with. But they chose the path of conflict, instead.

Time will tell what lessons, if any, are learned from this referendum election, and what the long-term effects will be in Sutter Creek and the county at large. Stay tuned.


Merlyn's Meanderings said...

Hi K: Don't forget that 500 people chose not to vote thereby indicating that the issue(s) regarding this project were not of major concern to them and so they probably should be added to the pro side creating more than 16 vote differential.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comments you make regarding the responses you indicate are being made.

Katherine said...

Hi, Merlyn: Thanks for your comments.

There were about 1,300 votes out of 1,500+ registered voters, so I think your numbers may be a bit off. In addition, I'm not sure it's reasonable to conclude that everyone who failed to vote is OK with Gold Rush. First, there are a number of people who do not vote regularly, regardless of the issue (sad fact of life, even in Sutter Creek). And there are people who just forget to vote -- as weird as that sounds to those of us who consider voting a near-sacred obligation. I've also seen some comments from people indicating that they could see both sides of the issue, but couldn't decide, so didn't vote.

The sad thing, for me, is that it came to a vote at all. I know that Bunce and company have been planning for a referendum for years (Bunce told me that). That's a clear indication that GR never planned to work with everyone in the community, only to power their way through.

It didn't have to be that way.

farmlady said...

I think that this whole issue has divided Sutter Creek so badly that the damage will be irreparable in the future. Living in Jackson, we didn't quite understand the extreme opposition to the Gold Rush project because our small towns seem to be suffering badly from this economic recession and businesses are dying as I write.
In this economy do you think it's wise to turn these developers away and say no to the revenue they might bring to the community?

(Katherine, I sent you some photos of the 2009 raft trip this evening. Please let me know if you receive them. I didn't have an email address for you and "norply" return doesn't always accept a response to my comment page. If not please send me your email address and I will resend the photos
Glad I found your blog!)

Katherine said...

Hi, Farmlady: With no regional demand for housing and money tight, I think it's doubtful that Gold Rush Ranch will have much economic benefit before the recession ends. (At one point, the developer even asked for a 10-year "time out" on the project.)

I also question, as have others, how much benefit it will have at all, especially in the long term.

I can't claim to know the secret to local economic success, but I know that when our county had 18,000 residents, the downtown businesses were in much better shape than they are today.

I've written other posts on Gold Rush before, so you might want to take a look at those.

I'll look for the photos -- thanks!