A couple of nights ago Jo Ann and I attended an NID meeting of the Cement Hill Rd water project held at the Elks Lodge. We sat with NID board member Nancy Weber who also spoke at the gathering. The meeting was pretty much a waste of time for most of the attendees, nevertheless it again shed a little more light on the disaster we are digging deeper for ourselves.
It turns out that part of the CH project involves about 68 low income (out of 142 involved) parcels, and a $720K or so community development block grant (CDBG) that was supposed to be used to reduce their taxes through a federal affordable housing stipulation connected with the project. Without boring you with the details, the bottom line is that HUD awarded the CDBG, and then after some months suddenly withdrew it. Apparently one of the problems is that some HUD numbskull in San Francisco cannot understand that Nevada County and NID are not the same jurisdiction. But I digress.
What really happened is that our county spent tons of staff hours preparing the work-up and application for this CDBG. Then it was reviewed by everyone here in the hills. Then it went to one of the big state buildings and bureaus in Sacramento where the state government types went through it and wrapped that application in their own application. Then all the review up and down the line to make sure that it was OK. Then they submitted to HUD in SF.
HUD, of course, did their bit on it with another few tons of staff hours to see that all applicable (and probably inapplicable) federal requirements were met. Then they awarded the $720K block grant.
So after more months passed, and who knows how many more staff hours spent, HUD decided that the county had violated the provisions of the grant by starting the project without the appropriate mother-may-I, and the pulled the money. Now everyone here is running around in circles attempting to convince HUD, in so many words, that they have their head stuck in the wrong place – the county doesn’t do any digging on this, it’s NID. Well, you get the drill.
At that point into the presentation I asked what was the estimated number of staff hours expended in the processing and de-processing of this CDBG, and if the dollar cost of that total might handily exceed the $720K amount in play here. This drew a nervous laugh from the audience until we all realized we ourselves were the target of the laughter. The country staffer didn’t want to give a direct answer, but conceded that it was a plausible assumption. And, dear reader, the beat goes on even as breathe – they’re all still huffing and puffing on this one while drawing full salary and benefits.
No RR reader thinks that these goings on are an anomaly. It is the sad norm of a runaway government on steroids. Before closing, I recall another little vignette that’ll frost your, …, well, you know.
It turned out that over half the projected project funds had already been spent in going through all the studies and applications and reports and pending applications and litigation and … with an ever increasing number of bureaus and commissions coming out of the woodwork to extract their pounds of dollar denominated flesh on what almost was a ‘shovel ready project’ some years back.
I asked the Caltrans presenter what, in their experience, were the overhead costs (above and beyond its engineering design and actual moving dirt and pouring concrete, etc) to do a roadway improvement like the Dorsey Drive project. He matter of factly told me that this project was not unusual in its progress. And that the norm was for every dollar needed to design and build, buck-for-buck would easily be spent on all the attendant chazzerai before any shovel would hit dirt. Chazzerai? that’s Yiddish for pig slop – we’re expatriates from soCal with a lot of Jewish friends.
Now we’re bracing for CARB to implement the remainder of California’s landmark AB32 cap and tax energy legislation. Prop23 this November is supposed to hold back this until our unemployment rate drops back to 5.5%. But I just found out that we here in Nevada County don’t have to worry about any of this affecting us. Our Board of Supervisors has determined that all of this statewide economic stuff is irrelevant to us mountain folk. The most it’ll impact us is a few extra jobs around here to caulk our windows, maybe also insulate a few water pipes, and then … . Of course, all these jobs will have to be planned, approved, and then inspected. But not to worry.