Duane Strawser had the paperwork needed to run for another term on the Nevada City Council.
The deadline to declare has since passed, and Strawser — long a staple of the council — won’t be on the ballot.
“I informed my family I would obtain documents, but only file depending on conversations with family,” he said. “They know how important that position is. I’m finishing my third term and it is the third time I was mayor. Before that, I was on the Nevada City Board of the Chamber of Commerce for 13 years and president of the board three times. It takes away a lot of family time, but you do it by choice.”
Now, for the first time in a long time, Strawser will watch council proceedings away from the dais.
Strawser has long been a fixture of Nevada City. He and his wife Connie bought the Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop in 1996, when they had their first child. A few years later, when their daughter was born, they decided to focus on the shop as a career.
“I was still racing (road bicycles), but I could choose races and I still loved camera work and took jobs wherever I could,” Strawser said.
While co-managing the bike shop for 25 years, Stawser also worked as a sports cameraman and cinematographer, including on some major motion picture productions like “The Fly” directed by David Cronenberg.
“I started as an intern, but once you had a job, you’d get picked up everywhere,” he said.
Strawser graduated from Sonoma State University and majored in communications, which included journalism, broadcasting, print media and press releases, though he eventually focused on cinematography. Carl Jensen was a professor and a mentor to Strawser.
“Video and sports were what you did in the interim to pay bread and butter, and landed motion picture projects whenever you could,” he said.
Having grown up in the Mariposa/Yosemite area, Strawser eventually met his wife-to-be, who was from Nevada County. After they married, they moved to the county to be close to her family.
While working as a cameraman shooting sports — the 49ers, Sharks and Giants in the Bay Area — he was also filming commercials for Breyers Ice Cream and Coca-Cola, as well as documentaries.
Meanwhile, Strawser — having raced bicycles since his school days — traveled the country and eventually internationally to compete in road races with a NeoLife team sponsorship. During the cycling season he would race, then work as a cameraman in the winter to pay bills.
“When I bought the bike shop in 1996, I pretty much gave up racing internationally and focused on U.S. regional racing,” he said. That allowed him to help raise his child, do camera work and return home on weekends to help with the bike shop.
Strawser became active with the Chamber of Commerce around 1997.
“My grandmother was a big influence, especially during high school and college,” he said. “She said, it was better to be great at a few things than just good at everything.”
One person who’s has expressed appreciation for Strawser’s business savvy and multi-tasking is Gil Mathew, executive director of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council. Mathew praised Strawser’s vision.
“Mayor Strawser is a very strong voice for the city of Nevada City in his work at the (Economic Resource Council),” Mathew said. “Also, his leadership as the chair and a member of the executive committee for many years have helped with the new direction and purpose of the (Economic Resource Council).”
Strawser left the Chamber of Commerce when he was elected to the City Council in 2010. While there was a desire to promote the county and Nevada City, there was little money to pay for ads in print publication. Instead, they relied on events such as Victorian Christmas.
However, it was the Nevada City Classic Bike Race that began to hit pay dirt. It was a tourism draw that required hard work, Strawser said. They sent out press releases to large, West Coast newspapers, and to justify the expense they needed a substantial tourist response.
The county and Nevada City then saw results from the race. It soon transitioned into the Amgen Tour of California that ran from 2006 to 2019. It was postponed because of the pandemic, though there is hope it may be revived.
For three years the tour began in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, traveled through the Redwood forests, wine country and the Pacific Coast before finishing in the Los Angeles area.
“That event brought international recognition, Tour de France level, and put us on the map,” he said.
Despite this triumph, Nevada City and the county face a number of challenges. The issues stem from wildfire, air quality, parking, merchants who are drawn out of the region, awareness to preserve historical sites and homelessness.
Homelessness has never gone away, and only grew more noticeable in the last decade.
In response to the pandemic over the last two years, Nevada City devised ways to help merchants survive by adapting to safety protocols the state and county public health departments required, and still provide a mechanism for merchants to prosper. One of those proved popular with merchants and residents alike — the closure of Commercial Street to vehicle traffic to allow temporary outdoor dining on sidewalks.
“It can be a tricky balance,” said Strawser. “We want the ability to have a flexible design so you can support any type of business no matter what it is, rather than focus on restaurants.”
Additionally, someone opposed to change may think the city is trying to hurt its historical value. But Strawser said the city cannot be allowed to become a museum and hope to survive financially.
“So, you’ve got to protect your history and embrace progress,” he said.
The first positive step toward the dual goals was hiring Joan Phillipe as interim city manager, Strawser said.
“She set the path and then she was instrumental in finding good candidates (for permanent city manager), he said. “She righted the ship and gave the city a high quality of choices. All the finalists were either born or raised here with strong ties here, particularly Sean Grayson, and we never had that before.”
Phillipe also had kudos for Strawser.
“His experience and history proves to be very beneficial when talking about projects that may have been in the works for a long time or dormant and are now coming back to the forefront,” she said. “The mayor works well with the community and is able to balance a variety of opinions, making finding a resolution much easier. His support of staff lends to an overall approach of building a team that is responsive, not just to the City Council but to the community as well, which enhances our working relationship.
Strawser also noted the importance of keeping the courthouse downtown, as it is a hub to the ancillary businesses in the immediate vicinity.
“All downtown merchants depend on courthouse-related clientele,” he said. “That’s why parking is so great an issue, because we’ve got to keep the courthouse where it is. All that could change because of the Judicial Council of California. It can hinge on us keeping parking available in downtown.”
Vice Mayor Doug Fleming agreed.
“He’s gallantly led the charge to keep the courthouse downtown over the many years its location has been debated,” Fleming said of Strawser. “I admire his dedication to improving the quality of life for people in Nevada City and always being of service to the community. (It’s) a lofty goal to which we all aspire. After a decade on the council, Mayor Strawser has left the city in a better place than he found it. His leadership has been pivotal as the council worked to overhaul City Hall and bring it into better alignment with the community it serves. He will be missed.”
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org