County, city squabble over big box development

Perspective: Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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While freeing the notebook from being held hostage at the state Capitol, we learn that Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger will soon take some time off to make a movie called “The Expendables.” Seems like a perfect title. ... Apparently also expendable was Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes. He says he’d been invited by the management of the new Home Depot to say a few words at Wednesday’s overflowing event. “I arrived about 5:45 (p.m.) only to be told by somebody from the county (government) that it was a county event and that no Auburn people needed to speak,” he said, obviously miffed at the screw-up in arrangements. Checking out the story, I was told by County Chief Assistant CEO Rich Colwell that it, indeed, was a county event, and that no dignitaries other than county supervisors spoke. Piecing together the facts, we figured out that the local Home Depot folks wanted the mayor to speak, but the Southern California media people running the event opted for short and sweet. Still, with Home Depot having an Auburn address — as well as an appearance from the Placer High band — one would think an address from the Auburn mayor would have been appropriate. Holmes is dismissing the issue as a case of “bad form,” but an untold story of late is the bad blood brewing between the county government and the City of Auburn, with money being the prime issue. The bad feelings may have begun when both Auburn Nissan and Pasquale T’s left the county for the friendly confines of the Auburn city limits. It’s certainly no secret that more than one county employee allowed a smile to hit the lips when each of those businesses went ashcan. Truth is, if the two are harboring ill will toward each other, it’s because of Costco. Each covets having that big-box store within its sales-tax boundaries. With Auburn currently in the better bargaining position, some county staffers are taking it personal. Not that the county is laying down on this one.  Currently, developer Jim Conkey is getting some help from the county in his attempt to lure Costco away from the already-announced Nevada Street proposed site to his vacant land near the intersection of Highway 49 and Luther Road. In fact, he has a generic Environmental Impact Report on the project sailing through the county planning department as you read this. And even the latest rumor of Wal-Mart looking for a North Auburn site can’t take Conkey off the Costco chase. “I know the EIR is generic, but let me be clear; the proposed project is specifically designed for Costco and nothing else,” he insisted, obviously weary over his nearly 19-acre site getting mentioned every time another big-box looks toward this part of the county. ... Shave and a haircut: Interesting item on tap for Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. At 11 a.m. the board will get a presentation of the upcoming budget, which starts from the premise that there is an $18.5 million deficit. But instead of locking up the supes for 40 consecutive hours until they agree to raise local fees, Chief Executive Officer Tom Miller is trying a different approach. After already shaving costs in previous budget meetings. Miller now says what he calls “a haircut” can address even more of the deficit problem. He says that after a series of meetings, mainly with about 300 management and confidential employees, he heard close to 200 cost-saving ideas. We’re told by another source that some of those were about unofficial perks a few employees had managed to carve out for themselves over the years, and there’s no better time than the present to weed out those bleeding expenses. But Miller says a preponderance of responses indicated it would be better to make salary cuts than it would be to lay off county workers. “We’re looking at a haircut, beginning with a cap on the upcoming COLA (cost of living adjustment), which was supposed to run from 2.5 to 5 percent,” he said. Miller said another idea from the employees themselves was to schedule 12 (unpaid) furlough days. “Close to three-quarters of the responses said they wanted the furlough days scheduled, rather than having employees pick the dates,” he added. The idea isn’t a slam-dunk because it still has to get the blessing of the Local 39 employees, but Miller thinks the pragmatic answers supplied by the employees he surveyed remains the best course. “I’m optimistic this novel approach can prevent layoffs while still providing meaningful work for the county,” he said. ... Add Miller: Check out the Miller-authored “Justice Delivered” piece in the latest issue of California County magazine. And there’s also an interesting piece titled “Recycling the Highway 49 Corridor” in the Jan./Feb. issue of Comstock Magazine. Among those featured are Colwell and Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at