Jeff Ackerman: County’s growth reflects white-flight trend | TheUnion.com
Jeff Ackerman
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Jeff Ackerman: County’s growth reflects white-flight trend

What a shocker. A new Census Bureau study found that more and more people are seeking big yards and open spaces, even if that means longer commutes.

Sound familiar?

“I think low density is the attraction,” said a demographer at the Brookings Institute, a Washington think-tank.

Ya think? I wonder how much money he gets paid to come up with that kind of think-tank analysis.

Let me think … squished apartment units and bumper-to-bumper commutes, or wide open spaces … let’s see … I’ll choose the wide open spaces.

Unfortunately, those of us who have access to the wide open spaces don’t want to share it because then it won’t be as wide open as it was when we found it.

The Eagles knew that when they suggested in a song that as soon as you call something paradise, you can kiss it goodbye.

According to the study, 13 of the 20 fastest growing counties are in the South, four in the West and three in the Midwest. Lyon County (between Reno and Carson City) made the top five.

In spite of what you may have heard from the alarmists, Nevada County didn’t make the list. In fact, only 10 new residential permits were issued in January and, last I checked, there were almost 800 homes for sale in Western Nevada County alone.

The study showed that Flagler County in Florida has grown 53 percent since 2000, an almost 10 percent annual growth rate.

Western Nevada County has grown between 1 and 2 percent per year.

And, with the exception of Truckee, home to many Hispanics, we remain one of the whitest counties in the country. While the state is 46.7 percent white, our fair-skinned county is in the upper-90 percentile. In fact, if Nevada City were any whiter, we’d have to seriously consider curb-side tanning booths.

It seems we love to talk about diversity. It makes great coffee chat, but the fact is, we all seem to be part of what has been referred to as “white flight.”

We move farther and farther north, seeking open spaces (better schools, less crime, less traffic, etc.), but that space is damned expensive to come by and only available to an elite group of mostly white people.

That’s right. We are elite, and we really ought to be concerned about that before someone starts calling us “elitists.” You know … people who have their slice of paradise and don’t want to share it.

A community of white, baby-boomer, gray-haired, “Fair Trade” java drinkers, shaking the morning Chronicle and bemoaning the plight of the poor and oppressed before heading out to fight the dreaded 30-second traffic jams in search of the trust fund or pension checks.

Life is a bitch in the open spaces, especially if it doesn’t include high-speed Internet access and great cell phone reception.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I have my slice of paradise, too. My kids go to great schools. Traffic doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother others. I’ve left my front door unlocked more times than I can remember and have never been robbed.

But I don’t mind sharing it, either. I think a little growth is good (they say if you’re not growing, you are dying), especially if we can make it affordable to those also seeking a slice of paradise but don’t have lots of money.

That’s why I’m not nearly as concerned about traffic as I am the cost of housing in these parts. It seems lots and lots of talk lately has centered around the awful traffic messes we have (awful is a relative term, of course) and have completely forgotten that our teachers, firefighters, police officers and nurses still cannot afford to live here.

That’s great if you don’t mind living in a white, gray-haired community the rest of your life. Just don’t pretend that diversity rests in one’s ability to make a left turn onto Idaho-Maryland Road in less than 30 seconds.

In the end, people will always be looking for a better way of life. And better has been defined as open, where you can look out a window and see a tree. Much of the growth of late has been directed south, at least prior to Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, California will always be more desirable. We’ve got lots and lots going for us here in the Golden State (politics aside). That means places like ours will always be attractive.

The question, then, is not whether we should grow (one fellow recently suggested we stop growing until our infrastructure has a chance to catch up, although he didn’t tell us where the drawbridge rope was located). The only question is how we ought to grow.

In determining that, we ought to make sure we have a plan to add a little color to our pale complexion.

I can only tolerate so many old, white, gray-haired guys like myself.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.