Looking Behind The Scenes: From click it or ticket, to cell phone or cell time

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Coughing through the notebook while wondering when the foothills became the Great Smokies ... Despite the smoke and haze, one thing is clear, at least to Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes. He insists that city government is doing a pretty good job, despite what you read in the papers. The usually affable Holmes appeared a bit perturbed at a recent Meddlers Meeting. He took his usual opening speaker time to bristle at what a Journal editorial opined when it said the city needs to get its actions a little closer to warp speed. Holmes was adamant that the city was doing everything that was proper in trying to land a Costco big box over on Nevada Street. He then wondered aloud to some of the Meddlers what the editors would have penned had City Manager Bob Richardson given away the store to land the, well, store. He was also rather incensed about words pertaining to the business vacancies surrounding the airport. “We just held a tour for a rather well-known technical firm the other day,” he said, declining to name names. He was also vociferous in claiming the city is well ahead of the curve on its portion of the shaded fuel break in the canyon. He added that the major portion of the current overgrowth is on lands controlled by the feds and Cal Fire. And if you run across Holmes in polite company — which is generally where he travels — please do not bring up the subject of the crumbling sidewalks along the Downtown portion of Highway 49. “The paper should well know that the road belongs to Caltrans, and that we’re doing all we can to get them to turn over that portion to us,” he said ... New blood: Auburn’s Planning Commission is back to full strength, now that Mayor Keith Nesbitt has tabbed a replacement for Ray Merz. The new guy is Alan Young, a former assistant fire chief for Sacramento. “He’s a good guy, and very interested in the economic development of Auburn. He’s looking for ways (to bring measured growth) without destroying the land,” Nesbitt said of his new commissioner. The mayor not only liked Young’s firefighting experience — and his excellent contacts with state and federal agencies such as FEMA — but was impressed that “he actually insisted on attending a planning commission meeting before accepting my offer. Thankfully, he went to an easy meeting.”  Nesbitt insisted that he talked to more than a few people about the vacancy, and had conversations with several who expressed interest. “But then I turned around at a (Gold Country) Rotary meeting, and there he was. “He’s honest and conscientious, and very well-liked. He has plenty of experience, and talking to him, you get this feeling of a real concern for our city,” Nesbitt said. By the way, the mayor was available only for a brief interview. When we caught up to him, he was busy preparing for an immediate departure with three of his motorcycling buddies. “We do this every year,” he said, adding that it’s hardly a “Wild Hogs adventure. “Mild Hogs is more like it,” he insisted ... More bike stuff: Although it was a dirt bike rather than a Harley, Nick Willick had a day that could hardly be termed “mild.” A few weeks ago, he told us of a then-recent trip he took to Georgetown to go dirt-biking with 16-year old son (and budding Renaissance man) Blake. “Any father with a young son knows where this story is going,” Willick correctly said in introducing the tale. “We were riding, and because Dad has a lot of pride, I wasn’t going to let Blake outdo me,” he added. Well, he succeeded there, because the old, pardon me, the elder man somehow wound up topsy-turvy and did some major hurt to both knees, his right hand, and various other parts of his anatomy. “Of course, it hurt when I did it,” Willick recalled, “but not nearly so much as it did during the three-mile dirt-bike ride back to the truck.” He’s mended now, as his recent work during Project Auburn demonstrated, but the betting is he’ll take it down a notch next time Blake saddles up for a ride through the Divide ...  Jail cell phone: It’s not to the point of “use your cell phone, go to prison,” but we all know that a new law goes into effect on Tuesday regarding using such devices while driving. It’s a good law, although odds are very great that it will be promptly ignored by a great many drivers. But to battle against such scofflaws, local CHP Captain Rick Ward will have some of his minions manning a special checkpoint on opening day. We won’t tell you where it is, although those driving from Auburn to say the Newcastle-Penryn-Ophir area really need to obey the new law. “We’ll just be issuing warnings that first day,” Ward said, “but as time goes by, it will be a ticket, the same way as the seat-belt laws.” He didn’t say it — he has better taste then that — but the implication is that we already have the “Click It or Ticket” slogan, and now comes the “Cell phone or cell time” program.  Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at, or post a comment at