George Boardman: Worried about an influx of newcomers? The supervisors have your back | TheUnion.com
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George Boardman: Worried about an influx of newcomers? The supervisors have your back

George Boardman
Columnist

Observations from the center stripe: Fantasy edition

THE FANTASYLAND in Anaheim isn’t the only one in California. Our elected leaders in Sacramento are hoping the feds bail us out so the state won’t have to make massive budget cuts … IN ORDER to keep his base united, Donald Trump appears to be running for president of the Confederate States of America … PEOPLE CRITICIZE Joe Biden for hiding it his basement, but he’s just following one of the basic rules of politics: Never interrupt an opponent when he’s destroying himself … DÉJÀ VU all over again?: Trump’s reelection campaign makes no sense and he’s behind in the polls, just like in 2016 …

If the demographic pundits are correct this time, the worst fears of area residents who like things the way they are and fear an influx of newcomers could be realized.

But don’t worry: The Board of Supervisors has your back.

People who think about this stuff have been saying for years that telecommuting will free knowledge workers from the need to live in hot job markets — and the high costs and small spaces that often come with them — and live the lifestyle they truly desire.

There has been scant evidence to date that this is actually happening, but the coronavirus pandemic may provide the necessary catalyst. Many companies are discovering there is little or no drop-off in efficiency when people work at home, and many of those workers are questioning the charm of high population-density big cities.

In any event, people who can do it are starting to move out of metropolitan areas. At one point in April, Americans were relocating at twice the pace they did a year ago, according to Cuebiq, a data firm that tracks movement via mobile phones. They continued to move at an elevated rate through mid-May.

More pertinent to the foothills is what’s going on in the Bay Area. The astronomical rents people are resigned to paying have dropped by double digits in several counties, and a record number of people in San Francisco are simply walking away from their leases.

The Bay Area is losing its allure as the must-be place for high tech startups. CBRE Group, a commercial real estate firm, reports the volume of tenants looking for space fell about 56% in San Francisco and 32% in Silicon Valley between the end of February and the end of May.

San Francisco has also suffered from more companies leaving the Bay Area for cheaper rents and other costs elsewhere. That has led to a growing glut of sublease space as tech companies lay off workers, throttle back expansion plans, or relocate jobs to less expensive markets.

Conservative pundits, who continue to be frustrated by the inability of urban dwellers to see the errors of their ways, profess to see a light at the end of the tunnel. “In just three months it has become clear that modern urban progressivism is politically incompetent and intellectually incoherent,” wrote Daniel Henninger, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, in a recent column.

“I think many younger, often liberal families would stick it out if they thought there was anything resembling a coherent strategy to address this mess — the new health threat, the homeless, the rising crime, the filth, the increasingly weird curriculum. But there is no strategy,” he added.

Most of those on the move are white collar professionals who can take the work with them. Google, Twitter, Facebook and others have discovered that working from home doesn’t hurt efficiency, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expects half of the company’s employees to work remotely in the future.

Having some of those people migrate to western Nevada County would be a mixed blessing. While they would probably bring more diversity and intellectual curiosity than we’re used to seeing around here, the median compensation of a Facebook employee is $240,000 a year, the kind of money that can cause a major disruption in the local housing market. Real estate millionaires from the Bay Area and southern California have already done enough damage.

Then there’s their urban ways (“No avocado toast on the menu?”) and their politics (“Antifa? A bunch of wimps.”). Do you really want your children to go to school with Bay Area transplants who buy their clothes at Nordstrom in Roseville, and drive mom’s old BMW to school?

These parents are high maintenance professionals. They demand state-of-the-art broadband that allows them to communicate swiftly and easily with their colleagues anywhere in the world. They don’t want to collect cobwebs when surfing the web, and they aren’t interested in a slow-motion version of movies they download.

Medically speaking, they prefer to use telemedicine where they can. And if the coronavirus pandemic means their children have to attend long stretches of the school year remotely, they want robust broadband that keeps their kids connected and on top of their work. Lacking such connectivity would be a deal breaker.

That’s where the supervisors have your back. Thanks to a lack of foresight and general inertia by our elected leaders, Nevada County is well behind the curve when it comes to state-of-the-art broadband.

As the county admitted in its 2019 broadband strategy report, the current state of affairs makes it impossible for all residents to have access to “health care, safety networks, an elevated quality of life and the opportunity to compete in a workforce of 21st century jobs.”

County leaders expected private enterprise to build out the robust network everybody would like to have, apparently not understanding that businesses spend their money where they can get the greatest return on investment. Instead of creating a co-op or similar public entity that has brought broadband to hundreds of rural areas in the nation, the supervisors are opening for a bailout by the feds and states while they opt for a patchwork approach they concede won’t solve the problem.

That approach will not attract the high-tech work we would love to have. “We knew 12 years ago (the tech sector) needed higher internet speed to work from here,” Tom Corkins, executive director the Economic Resource Council, told The Union recently. “None of that has changed. We need it. We need it now.”

“It doesn’t allow people to think big,” said Robert Trent, executive director of Sierra Commons Business Ignitor. “If you have limitless internet, you can do limitless things on the internet.”

So don’t worry about an influx of those uppity Bay Area types. Like I said, the Board of Supervisors has your back.

CLARIFICATION: Because of inaccurate information on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, I indirectly referred to the newspaper as the second largest in the state. The San Diego Union Tribune is the second largest newspaper in California by circulation.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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