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California dreamin’ – most want single-family home

John HartIn her Grass Valley home Thursday, Maryann Rutherford works in the kitchen.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

For the second straight year, an overwhelming number of Californians told pollsters they prefer to drive alone to work and live in a single-family home, two desires that often confound lawmakers trying to steer growth back into cities.

While residents of the Bay Area are the state’s most comfortable with a high-density urban lifestyle, 86 percent of 2,010 adults interviewed in a new growth survey by the Public Policy Institute of California said they want a house with a yard.

Nearly four in 10 cited safety as the biggest reason.



That’s nearly double the number citing schools or more space as the leading factor in choosing a neighborhood and home.

Nevada County appears to be in step with the state trend.




Maryann Rutherford said she wouldn’t live in a condo or dense urban-style development. She, her husband, John, their daughters Natalie and Amanda, and grandchild, Gabriel, live in a single-family home on Winchester Street in Grass Valley.

Rutherford likes the privacy of having her own home, a safe yard for the kids to play in and room for pets.

“I want a place that’s safe for them to play in, a yard for them to play in,” she said.

Rutherford can remember living in a Yorba Linda apartment in her youth. “I didn’t like that at all,” she said. “You’d open the door and see people across the way from you.”

Mark Weyman, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Grass Roots Realty in Grass Valley, said that while most people prefer single-family homes, there is a market here for condos among baby boomers, retirees and families just starting out.

Condos like the Rockwood complex on Hughes Road go pretty quickly, noted Weyman.

Bill Litchfield, a Grass Valley builder, said people would go for an upscale 20-unit condo project on 100 acres – especially if it had open space, hiking trails, a sort of backyard.

But if you crammed in 300 units, it wouldn’t fly, said Litchfield.

“I think the average person moves here for a rural environment,” sid Litchfield.

Advocates of more mixed development say Californians haven’t seen enough good examples of compact urban living that compact urban living that emphasizes walking over driving.

”I think that awareness does play a role in the Bay Area and other places where more people have seen what a denser, walkable neighborhood can look like,” said Steven Bodzin, spokesman for the San Francisco-based Congress of New Urbanism. ”Anywhere with historic cities you have people who are aware.”

Homebuilders say the survey bolsters their arguments against local and state moves to push most new development into older cities.

”When we talk to the policy makers and some of them try to move us in a different direction, my standard statement is when you’re in business to build a product and sell it, you really want to give people what they want. And that’s what they want,” said Robert Rivinius, chief executive officer of the California Building Industry Association.

Such resounding opinion also counters the so-called ”smart growth” favored by three wealthy California foundations that commissioned the survey. They’ve seeded the emerging, but often embattled, development trend with millions of dollars, emphasizing transit, townhouses and apartments above stores to slow suburban growth in a state that loses 50,000 acres of irrigated farmland every year to development.

Mark Baldassare, the PPIC’s survey director said he’ll present the findings Friday to the James Irvine Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the second year he’ll present sobering news about Californians’ attitudes on growth.

John Dickey and The Associated Press


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