Grass Valley officials made it clear this week that economic development is high on the list of things to do for new city manager Bob Richardson.
How much he’s actually able to accomplish will depend on whether Grass Valley’s movers and shakers are ready for an attitude change.
Richardson, who held the same position in Auburn for 10 years, was chosen after the ever-popular nationwide search turned up the city’s man just 25 miles away. He signed a five-year contract with a base of pay of $163,000, 20 percent more than his predecessor, Dan Holler, earned. His first day in Grass Valley will be Feb. 10.
Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller made it clear Auburn’s success in revitalizing its downtown and adding several new retailers during Richardson’s tenure was a big factor in the City Council’s unanimous decision to hire him. Apparently he’s expected to do the same thing in his new job.
“He understands redevelopment and economic development,” Miller told the Auburn Journal.
Richardson professed to see real possibilities in Grass Valley’s economic future. “I think Grass Valley can be nicely repositioned to have a better economic presence,” he told the Journal.
The Auburn area has experienced a boom in big box retailers in recent years, with the opening of a Best Buy and Home Depot. Construction will begin soon on a Wal-Mart and land has apparently been selected for a Costco. All of these stores are on county property, and Wal-Mart in particular was vehemently opposed by residents of the town.
The fear in Grass Valley is that these stores will suck even more retail dollars out of the county, which loses an estimated $200 million in retail sales every year to surrounding counties. One of Richardson’s jobs will be to stop the bleeding.
One way to stop the bleeding is to bring chain stores to Grass Valley that dissuade residents from shopping elsewhere, and that may be a real challenge for the new city manager.
No big box stores will come to the western county–we’re too close to Auburn–and Grass Valley’s downtown retail establishment, which has strong support on the City Council, isn’t excited about getting any more competition.
Miller also cited the revitalization of downtown Auburn during Richardson’s tenure, saying, “We looked at what he did in Auburn, and Auburn looks great.”
Miller could have added that anything looks better after you traverse the stretch of Highway 49 from Bell Road to Interstate 80, a monument to non-planning. That mixture of commercial and light industry makes our Burger Basin look like an upscale shopping area.
Richardson will be the city’s first city manager–Grass Valley’s giving up the city administrator form of government–and he’ll have to educate the council, staff and public on how it works. Miller also said the city’s looking at consolidating fire services, has budgetary challenges, and needs to update policies and procedures.
But that’s all in the future. Everybody’s talking nice, just as they did when Holler was hired, and Miller won’t be around to deal with the consequences of his vote if he’s elected to the county Board of Supervisors.
But it’s nice to see that at least one government agency in the county might actually emphasize economic development instead of just talk about it.