‘The best outcomes’: Nevada County’s Community Development Agency director plans to strengthen partnerships

Trisha Tillotson is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work as the county’s director of the Community Development Agency.
Photo: Elias Funez

When Trisha Tillotson enrolled in kindergarten, her grandfather gave her a calculator that instilled in her a love of math and science and ultimately the desire to go into engineering.

Now she’s taking her skills and applying them as director of the county’s Community Development Agency.

“If a person wants to build a house, start a business or obtain a permit, the process should be simple while complying with requirements and at the same time it should easily obtain data of what’s needed, what’s allowed, and what’s involved,” said Tillotson, director of the county’s Community Development Agency. “I’d like to see the CDA be a partner with community organizations — the Sierra Business Council, Economic Resource Council, Realtors and contractors.”

Tillotson, a graduate of Nevada Union High School, received a bachelor’s of science at California State University, Chico. She worked 12 years at the Grass Valley Public Works Department before becoming director of the county’s Department of Public Works. As of June 28, she’s been head of the Community Development Agency.

“My past experience made me well rounded professionally,” she said. “In my new role, it reenforced my commitment to provide outstanding public service, improve accessibility, responsiveness and transparency.”

The Community Development Agency is an umbrella organization that among other responsibilities oversees the Agriculture Commission, Building Department, Environmental Health, Planning Department, Public Works and Cannabis Compliance.

Recently the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury published its report regarding commercial cannabis.

Among its findings was only 3% of cannabis growers were in compliance, and an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 illegal growers were cultivating product. A primary obstacle for persuading illegal growers to become permitted ones was the high cost of breaking into the business. By transferring oversight from the Cannabis Compliance Division to the Sheriff’s Office, more illegal growers will become permitted growers, the grand jury advised.


As for the barriers to breaking into the business, there have already been 117 permits issued and the application fee of $2,100 is one of the lowest in the area.

“But if you select a parcel of land that is not agriculturally zoned, you must understand you need to go through a process to get development permits that must pay for themselves,” she said. And she pointed out that noncompliance is a land use issue, meaning it’s under the jurisdiction of her office rather than the Sheriff’s Office.

Before plunging into an illegal venture, Tillotson advises prospective growers to carefully peruse the county website on cannabis compliance that answers many questions:

“There’s a pre-application process that helps the applicant get a head start,” said Tillotson. “And there’s a two-year transition process for the non-compliant to get into compliance. We’ll be submitting our formal response to the grand jury before the Board of Supervisors (meeting) on July 27.”


Tillotson will be overseeing departments within the county, such as the Cannabis Compliance Division.
Photo: Elias Funez

Internet connectivity is another issue on Tillotson’s list.

High speed broadband internet has become necessary for families who desire full participation in the digital age and will enhance access to the virtual classroom, telemedicine and telework. Tillotson noted the county is working to bring broadband from the major urban hubs to the neighborhoods. This includes fiber optic cable as well as satellite networks.

“A major obstacle is funding, but we’re working with Sierra Business Council to obtain state funds,” said Tillotson.

Collaborating with her is Steve Monaghan, the county’s chief information officer. According to Monaghan, the county’s broadband strategy has two major initiatives.

“First, make Nevada County the most attractive and easiest place for internet service providers to build last-mile connections through streamlined permitting and assistance. Then second is to be a catalyst for new innovative last-mile projects via our grant program,” he said in an email.

Martin Polt, deputy county executive officer, said he has worked with Tillotson for five years. He explained her primary strength is the cooperation she engages in with other departments.

“Her ability to get public input will translate well with cannabis compliance,” he said. “She’s a good listener and by including most stakeholders that eventually leads to the best outcomes.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

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