Charge Of The Lights Brigade

Nevada City Lights589There’s been a lot of loose talk concerning those lights in downtown Nevada City. As usual, it’s another case of whether to keep Nevada City’s historical image intact or to bend with the changing tastes of the populace.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the argument for better lighting in NC. Back in the eighties there was a proposal to tear down the old market and Rogers’ Frame Shop on Pine Street to make way for additional parking. (This was before the forest service property was sacrificed to the god of asphalt.) At a townhall meeting, members of the Oddfellow’s Hall objected. They were upset that the city would contemplate defiling their last sanctuary in a town that had become alien to them. And they also complained that the gas lights were so dim that they feared for their lives crossing Broad Street after dark.

The proposal died, and eventually so did all the old Odd Persons. Allen Rogers is doing his best to keep the old organization alive, but most of NC’s young turks have other interests and motives.

Change doesn’t come easy to Nevada City. Several generations have devoted their time and energy to keep the historical district intact. They are understandably concerned that the city is standing on a slippery slope in the lighting debate. As one person on Facebook asked: “What’s next; neon?”

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23 Responses to Charge Of The Lights Brigade

  1. rlcrabb says:

    Congrats to San French. You’re now a member of the “old guard” of cranks and curmudgeons who hate change. Next Pelline will accuse you of being in the Tea Party.

    • San French says:

      Yikes and shiver me timbers…the thought of having Senum after me arse is truly a fright. I guess I really set her off. Sakes man, she wrote an essay in reply to me! I was just having a little fun. However, I really do dislike those silly -ass lites and that whole Commercial St. do-dah euro-cafe crap. And, I haven’t been in town at night in well over ten years. I’d just be old and in the way.
      I am really proud to be able to belly-up with the likes of youse guys. I wrote that letter awhile back and just figured they trashed it. The Union was just lurking for the proper moment? Were you in on that RL?
      Anyway, do you guys have uniforms?

      • Brad Croul says:

        Why do you have such a strong opinion of the lights if you have not been to town after dark in 10 years?
        I am aware of the whole yuppification argument. But I don’t think a little mood lighting is necessarily a bad thing.

        I don’t know why the neon art form gets such a bad rap either.

      • Brad Croul says:

        The whole lighting brouhaha kind of reminds me of the State of Jefferson push in that supporters of both want less regulation and government interference in everything.

        So, what’s wrong with the idea of “doing your own thing” with some strings of lights?

  2. Chris Peterson says:

    I am personally tired of people telling me what a “beautiful and unique” little town Nevada City is. Yeah, a lot of people spent a lot of time and effort to create and preserve it’s charm and history; but times change, and the newcomers have every right to bring in Starbucks, Mickey D’s, and storage units, along with the bright lights and boogie of the modern metropolis they miss so much.

    I think it’s high time Nevada City was annexed into Grass Valley’s vision of becoming a mirror image of downtown Marysville. I mean; peel away the veneer of history and what do you have but frustrated transplants longing for a better life than the one they chose when they moved there. It’s time to drop the facade of complacency and dive head first into the future of a Walmart-bedazzled utopia.
    Queen of the Motherlode be damned; I think you folks should go Picasso on the bitch.

  3. Ben Emery says:

    I have to disagree with you on your last comment. It seems to me if people want to live in the belly of franchise/ chain dominated towns they can do so in almost every town/ city in the US. Is there a place that is available where people would like to shape and mold a sustainable economy with a community approach instead of a corporate one? Now here is the thing that might blow the minds of conservatives, wanting a sustainable community based economy where neighbors help know each other and help each other out is how all small rurul communities and towns were back in the day. It is the conservation part of conservative.

  4. Ben Emery says:

    I am not calling you the C word just pointing out the very things “conservatives” oppose are the things they claim they want to hang on to.

    • Chris Peterson says:

      Call me what you will, Ben, I will take no offense.

      But, perhaps you missed what I had hoped was the defining line in my sarcastic post: “I mean; peel away the veneer of history and what do you have but frustrated transplants longing for a better life than the one they chose when they moved there.”

      My point being; why on Earth did these folks move to a place that was so uniquely and adamantly holding onto it’s historical identity, only to later demand a change? I could see folks fighting for their right to bathe their store front in black light posters, or whatever, if they were in Grass Valley; but who in the heck moves to a town like NC with a vision to modernize it?

      It’s like moving to a vegan commune and demanding your right to raise pigs, or moths demanding that I turn on my porch light. What the hell was the attraction in the first place?

      Makes no sense

  5. Lights…
    As a business owner in our historic downtown, i feel it is in the best interest of ALL local business to have additional lighting. The gas lamps look great,but do very little in terms of actually lighting . My building 300 commercial st looks dark at night if i do not have the ” Christmas lights “on. The City counsel has decided for me that they should remain off all but two months of the year. I have two windows & doors with windows in them in the front of my historic building- When the lights are off it looks as if i am CLOSED! I employee 21 people in our small town & bring in much needed tax revenue. The Nevada City Council wants to start fining me $100 a day if i leave the lights on , that amount will incrementally go up to $500 a day! It is obvious to me that this council does not care about the vitality & growth of business in our town! Not one person on this council has a business in the downtown area, this they don’t care if it hurts the rest of us! I am so fed up with the BS surrounding this! Regarding the Terazzo lights or what ever you want to call them. Ask any of the business on lower commercial st & they will tell you it not only looks beautiful but it makes it so tourists & locals alike feel more comfortable sitting on the board walk or just walking down the street which as anybody knows only contributes to the success of these businesses. Sally Harris our Mayor said at the last council meeting regarding the lights that after January .”I want me town back” It is not HER town its OUR TOWN! Listen to the people who work & live here not just the ones who tell you what to do!

    • Ben Emery says:

      Thanks Matt,
      Business owners perspective from the very street we are talking about.

    • Brad Croul says:

      Thanks Matt,
      It is my understanding that the City does not have regulations regarding lighting inside windows (except for neon signage visible from the street), so you should be able to do what you want on the inside. I would check with the City Planner to be sure. If there is no ordinance prohibiting it – you are good to go.
      I personally think the small, low wattage, lights outlining a window frame add some cheer to windows at night. Some businesses have tinted windows and it is really hard to tell if the business is open because you cannot see if the interior lights are on (especially on a sunny day).

      The City is interested in coming up with a plan for exterior lighting, including the “festival” lights. Some folks like the Xmas lights outlining the buildings at night, and some do not (of course). However, the outline lights do not look that great when there are too many burned out bulbs, and when the occasional building owner or occupant do not want to participate, which leaves large “blank” spots in the lighting scheme.

    • steve cottrell says:


      I love you like a brother and am thrilled that your business has been so successful. I get great reports all the time,, so I’ve got two point to make that I hope you take in the spirit they’re given.

      1): The edict affecting lights that trim the inside and outside of shop windows and doors was instituted as a fire safety measure. It was the opinion of the then-fire chief that cheap twinkle lights often have cheap wiring and, if left lit beyond 45 days, could cause a fire.

      Do I know if that can actually happen? No. When I was on the council, I sometimes had to depend on professionals to provide me with professional advice. But if the wiring is not subject to self-ignition, then maybe it’s time for the council to revisit the item? Why don’t you ask a councilmember to go to bat for you on the light issue? I think it’s something that can be resolved without too much difficulty.

      Fining you hundreds of dollars a day is plain silly, of course, but we both know that silliness has never been a stranger at 317 Broad Street

      2): (This was posted earlier on Jeff P’s blog): Maybe it’s time to let the citizens of Nevada City decide if the Historical Ordinance is still relevant, or if it needs to go away –– just as Neon lights went away in the 1970s? A half-dozen or so people exchanging barbs on blogs is hardly a consensus for either side of the argument.

      How about this as an advisory question for Nevada City voters on the November ballot::

      “Shall the Historical Ordinance be repealed?”

      Since the ordinance is seldom enforced these days, maybe voters are ready to drive a final spike through its 45-year-old heart?

      But if the question appears on the ballot and voters say they do NOT want the Historical Ordinance repealed, then maybe the planning commission and city council can get back to enforcing it?

      I realize I’m a member of the “dying generation” referred to by Ms. Senum, but the ol’ ticker is still ticking, so I’ll keep fighting for fair and equal enforcement of the Historical Ordinance until it stops ticking.

      (Matt: As far as I’m concerned, equal application of the Historical Ordinance is the key. Unfortunately, cronyism still flourishes in Nevada City).

      • Brad Croul says:

        I had not heard about the fire safety issue regarding twinkle lights. But if an occupant wants to install some very low wattage lighting inside their space (and it is UL approved) I cannot see the fire department telling them they cannot do that.
        I suppose some little kid could chew on the wires hanging around while waiting for his meal and get a shock. Kids do the darndest things.

        • steve cottrell says:


          There used to be a form letter sent to business owners on fire department letterhead. Don’t know if it’s still sent, but you could determine that easily enough at City Hall. And in the past, at least, when friendly reminders were sent to shop owners by the chamber, it referenced fire safety. I agree that the likelihood of fire is extremely remote, which is why I think the city council might be open to revisiting the trim lights –– at least on windows and doors. Trim lights along rooftops is another issue.

          And you are right regarding the city’s inability to dictate what happens on the inside of windows. City control is limited to the outside of windows, which is why, I suppose, the concept of fire safety was used to establish some degree of interior control re: the small lights?

  6. San, I wouldn’t take Miss Reinette too seriously. Anybody who believes in voodoo medicine, as she apparently does, lacks credibility.

    But people who want to retain the historic look of downtown Nevada City but have no problem with the Art Deco city hall and courthouse are unclear on the concept. One of the best arguments for building a new courthouse at the Rood Center is that it will remove a huge eyesore from the core of the town’s fantasy land.

    • Ben Emery says:

      Why not stick to the issue instead of personally attacking Reinette’s character? Reinette is odd but not in the lame way you describe her but rather due to the fact she gets shit done unlike the of the rest of us who sit around and just talk about ideas. She gets things done despite fighting an uphill battle against a small group of people who have controlled the policies of Nevada City for decades. She is someone we should celebrate not fight.

  7. rlcrabb says:

    The historical ordinance has always been cherry-picked to suit the city’s flavor du jour. And despite what Scoopy the Editor says, I’ve been whacking at the status quo in Nevada City for many years, most notably the fight over David Parker’s mural on the outside deck of Cooper’s, then known as Wiley’s. I personally don’t give a flying fuck about the lights or the drydock on Commercial St. If that’s what the citizens want, it’s their town. I’m just here to add some perspective.

  8. Barry Pruett says:

    I find it rather humorous that people who usually demand the populous bow low to the regulation by government are up in arms when the government regulates them. Why should a city council have a say on, for instance, what color someone wants to paint the building that they own? Why should NC council have a say on when Margulies wants to turn on the lights on HIS building? Too much bossing around of others by the city council puts the brakes on commerce. Business owners know what is best for them, and business owners should be able to nimbly adjust to the market without having to ask the powers above for permission. Silly.

    • Ben Emery says:

      All regulations aren’t equal.
      Over regulating at the street level (small businesses and people) is ridiculous. Regulating big business that can affect millions of people or whole eco systems that will negatively impact everything in the area from the economy to the microbes in the water/ soil and everything in between is our duty as a public. The public works through our government on those regulations. Economies have become so complex due the advancing technology and the use nano and micro sized material and complex chemistry that the average person has no idea what it is or what it does.

  9. rlcrabb says:

    I see that Scoopy is berating me again on his blog, and using San as a punching bag to get at me. I posted a comment on his blog explaining that San has been recovering from cancer for the last few years and hasn’t been part of the NC “scene” for some time, even though he was a fixture in the local music community for many years. Scoopy refused to post the comment, which is par for the course at his one-sided soapbox.

  10. Don Baumgart says:

    Cottrell is right about the historical clout stopping at the pane of glass. A few years back the Alpha Building was being emptied by an out-of-town liquidator which covered the inside of the Alpha windows with signs that did not belong in Nevada City. I wrote a piece about it; in preparation I called a couple of then city planning commission members and was told they had absolute right of veto on outside signs but had no say on what’s inside the window. The headline on the piece I finally wrote was “What’s your sign and why is it so ugly?”

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