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Nevada City’s Sphere of Influence. It’s About the Water.

Today, Nevada City, is considered the jewel of the Sierra, continuously making its way onto the top 10 places to live, to visit, to do, well, basically anything. Most recently, as it has been duly noted in numerous Facebook posts, Nevada City made its place onto the cover of Sunset Magazine as the #1 place to come invade. I mean, to live. On the cheap, or something like that.

It’s understandable the desire to live here, however, because over the decades Nevada City has become an enclave of colorful artists, entrepreneurs, activists, roaming vagabonds, as well as a collection of actors and musicians. We are renown for our literary figures, environmental stewardship, and, of course, our river: The Yuba. But that’s a whole other story.

City officials, local organizations, and community members have taken the lead by preserving over 450 acres of open space throughout Nevada City such as Deer Creek Tribute Trail, Hirschman’s Pond and Trail, and by purchasing surrounding properties such as the iconic Nevada City backdrop known as Sugar Loaf. To ensure public access to nature, bike paths, walking trails and ADA accessibility, the city also supported the establishment of a trail with interpretive signs to the city-owned Hirschman’s Pond.

Keeping within the tradition of stewardship, the City installed a micro-turbine for hydro-electricity in the city’s waste-water treatment plant and installed solar on most of its municipally owned buildings.

Organic farming, alternative medicine, a variety of spiritual disciplines, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and the very popular Nevada City Farmers Market, “a Saturday morning community gathering,” are quickly becoming a way of life while local, sustainable producers and cottage industries are making a comeback.

Nevada City also has the honor of hosting the largest environmental film festival in the nation, The Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival: a program of the South Yuba River Citizen’s League, SYRCL.

Originally organized as a grassroots campaign to defend the South Yuba River from several proposed hydropower dams in 1983, today, SYRCL continues to be at the helm of fighting for water justice and is known as one of the largest watershed organizations in the nation. I believe great credit is due to SYRCL for teaching us all about the relevancy of water in our lives.


Nevada City’s vitality, abundance, and charm are not accidental. It has been carefully curated over the last 40 years through leadership, vision, and ingenuity. Business owners, leaders, community members, alike, knew that Nevada City was so unique that it required special attention so as to ensure and improve upon its wonderful way of life. Part of this strategy was to build upon its local aesthetics, history, arts and culture. But there was more to it than that.

One of those hidden mechanisms that have allowed us the space and privilege to curate this incredible community is the City’s brilliantly designed Sphere of Influence (SOI), created in 1983. It is a planning boundary outside the official city limits.

The agency, LAFCO, is responsible for determining the boundaries of our SOI.

As it has so intelligently done in the past, the current SOI allows us to shape and develop our town and to control the impacts from neighboring development while protecting those very neighbors.

The current SOI allows us options to expand through annexation so as to accommodate our future needs such as low-income housing, greenbelts, trails, bridges, building development, traffic flow, impacts on our drinking water, and zoning, etc.

You may note that our SOI is rather large in comparison to other comparable size

cities. This current SOI has allowed us to stretch our arms and develop out into the world rather than the other way around; ultimately protecting us from unwanted encroachment. This SOI is Nevada City’s frontline of defense, ultimately creating a critical firewall, and we are about to have a majority of it greatly reduced by LAFCo! We need our community to speak up against this.

If you don’t think this means much, just think about all of the congestion and hodgepodge development you see around all other historic towns -- any downtown for that matter: How commonplace it is throughout the American landscape. We must ask ourselves why has Nevada City been able to forestall this type of development along its boundaries? What makes us so different?

You need only look as far as the city’s former and longtime city manager, Beryl Robinson. Robinson was also an engineer. He was an engineer who quite simply and conservatively understood the importance of water and its natural boundaries. He designed this SOI to encompass Nevada City's entire watershed because, well, everything rolls down hill. This proposed SOI reduction even cuts us off from our city water treatment plant and includes a portion of our city water source.

The current SOI was not designed as an arbitrary boundary, mandated by outside interests, but was designed with nature in mind-- whether intentional or not, it is a simple, yet ingenious way to protect a city; through the boundaries of its watershed. If we protect our water, we protect ourselves.

Advertently or inadvertently, our current SOI is about the water. This is our watershed. This is our source of life. This is our drinking water. It grows our food. It connects us to everything.

Large, unrestrained housing developments, shopping centers, and roads are the antithesis to water. Free flowing water in this nation is not a priority. Water is diverted. Bottled. Dammed. Piped. Injected with fracking fluid and poisoned. It is paved over and covered up as if it doesn’t exist until we are humbly reminded when it occasionally bubbles to the surface and destroys infrastructure during historic rains and floods

Water needs room in order to feed us. The space around it is sacred. And the more we protect our water the better we are able to care for ourselves. This is not rocket science. This is what the Sioux Nation of Standing Rock intrinsically understands: It's about the water. Water is life. Our current SOI protects this.

Over and over people have been asking me now more than ever, “Reinette, what can I do, what can I do?” Well, all I can say is, "There are times when it is appropriate to enjoy community by slowing down and smelling the roses. And there other times it is appropriate to step up and fight for the rosebush." Now is one of those times to step up. We cannot allow LAFCo to reduce the size of our SOI!

You can speak up by giving your input at the LAFCo SOI Workshop, Thursday, February 23rd, 9:30 AM at the Rood County Admin Building at 950 Maidu Avenue, Nevada City.


If you can’t do that, email a letter to our city manager, Mark Prestwich:


Write a letter to the City Council

319 Broad Street. Nevada City,

CA, 95959


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