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Placer Nature Center fights eviction

California Conservation Corps gives nonprofit until April to leave
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Christian Valley’s Placer Nature Center is digging in to fight an eviction notice from its landlord, the California Conservation Corps.

The corps wants the nonprofit environmental education group off the property by early spring and out of buildings that it has been using for the past 27 years rent-free. Plans are for a lengthy demolition and reconstruction project.

The Nature Center move is required because of safety concerns, a corps spokesman said.

“The corps understands relocation may be a hardship but this is a matter of safety and operational efficiencies,” corps Director of Communications Dana Howard said.

Dave Matthews, Nature Center executive director, said that the group had been under the impression since 2015 that the center might be temporarily off the property for maybe a month. The notice the center received in October said that all operations should stop and all property should be removed by April 15 for a period of two to three years with no guarantee of being able to return to the site.

“This came from out of the blue,” Matthews said.

Mary Weeks, board chairwoman, said the group’s board is working to gather support from the public and in state government circles to reverse the notice and allow the organization to remain where it is.

“We’re hoping that something really good will come out of this,” Weeks said.   

The corps plans to move all employees — including corps members — off the property during the demolition and construction process. The compound at the end of Christian Valley Road has structures — many of them more than 60 years old — that need to be rebuilt. The Placer Center will be temporarily relocated during the construction period to Greenwood in El Dorado County, Howard said.

“The demolition and construction site at the corps’ Placer Center will be a hard-hat zone,” Howard said. “It simply would be unsafe for children and the general public to come and go in an area where heavy equipment such as bulldozers, big rigs and large construction vehicles need to operate.”

The center’s presence at the corps site is based on a memorandum of understanding, not a lease. Under the memorandum, the center provides four classes a year for corps members, Howard said.

“The corps recognizes the Nature Center has been a long-standing partner,” Howard added. “We look forward to finding a pathway to continue the partnership in the future.”

Matthews sent out an email blast to Nature Center supporters last week.

“The construction activity is not within the footprint of the nature center and the center is willing to accept the inconvenience of limited access and intermittent disruptions to water and power service,” he said.

Matthews stated in the email that their efforts to change minds in a meeting with state corps officials “fell on deaf ears.”

“When asked about our returning to the site after construction they replied that due to the pending election and the possible change in leadership in the Natural Resources Agency and the CCC department they could not commit to our return,” he stated.

Matthews said he believes the corps intends to move into the center facilities and benefit from 27 years of improvements made there.

The center board has formed committees, including one it is calling a “resistance committee” to determine if there are ways to prevent the move or extend the group’s stay at its current site.

“While this development was sudden, unexpected and disheartening, the board, staff and volunteers of the center are confident in the future of the organization and the continuation of community-based environmental education to the citizens of Placer and Nevada counties,” Matthews said.

“We wish the Placer Nature Center well in finding a new location to operate and look forward to returning our residential operations to the Auburn area when the new CCC Placer Center is complete,” Howard said.