Terry Lamphier: Development moratorium needed
July 12, 2018
Calls to "build more housing" join recent false and misleading narratives such as "crime is out of control" and "we need higher taxes for police, fire and parks" (local and national law enforcement have stated that local crime is stable or dropping and former Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters continues to make the case that city tax increases are actually about covering pension obligations).
A guest columnist recently pointed out that we have several housing developments under construction. None are providing anything affordable to locals. All are causing economic and quality of life harm to our community.
As government leaders quietly stand by, our community is going the way of generic "Anytown USA" — bland architecture and chain stores that, arguably, local taxpayers are subsidizing.
Responsible government leaders should be calling for a moratorium on new housing development in order to reexamine and adjust our priorities to better serve our community. If they don't have the courage to do so, they should be replaced this fall. Here's why:
Responsible government leaders should be calling for a moratorium on new housing development in order to reexamine and adjust our priorities to better serve our community.
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In the mid-2000s, Grass Valley was facing the prospect of thousands of new homes. Then-city leaders wisely commissioned a huge, exhaustive and impartial multi-year study, the "Economic and Fiscal Study for the City of Grass Valley" (includes "Baseline Report" and "Phase 2 Report"), to determine impacts of growth on our little piece of paradise. While the report is now over a decade old, the information was so compelling that responsible city leadership should demand updated data in order to determine what really serves local residents before blindly pushing ahead with continued high end housing construction.
From the report:
"the data indicates that for-sale housing in Grass Valley is unaffordable for the majority of residents" (p.17 EFC)
" the price of housing is actually higher in nearby commute shed of Placer County" so "there is an incentive for the Placer County workforce to live in Western Nevada County, and commute to work" (p.19 EFC)
"Grass Valley's total housing stock expanded at an annual growth rate of 1.9 percent compared to California's annual growth rate of .9 percent" (p.11, BR)
"the fiscal analysis measures whether or not a proposed land use mix will create a net gain in City revenue, or if the land use mix will cost more for services than it will generate for City revenues. The analysis indicates that the development of fewer residential units will yield more positive net fiscal benefits for the City" (p.54 EFC)
"residential uses tend to require more in service costs than they generate in revenues" (p ii, Phase 2 Report; accompanying chart notes that single family residences cost on average $525 more in City services than they generate in revenue)
The current construction trend of building housing with a buy-in of $400,000 and up means a household needs a minimum of $100,000/year in income, yet Grass Valley household incomes in 2000 averaged $28,000.
Are our police and fire personnel, grocery clerks, school teachers, small business merchants, etc. now making enough to buy the housing being built? Or are we servicing commuters?
What about using common sense in evaluating housing impacts? More houses mean more stop signs, more street congestion, more crime volume, more pollution. We will not be tearing down century old buildings to improve traffic flow.
As your past county supervisor, I learned through county staff that there are local land owners open to low/moderate income housing construction and there are financial incentives to make it profitable, but there allegedly has been reluctance on the part of Grass Valley officials to work with Nevada County to provide said housing.
In land use, there is the phrase "highest and best use," traditionally translated as "the highest financial return." While this serves wealthy investors, it is otherwise an arbitrary and narrow value set that lacks a "quality of life" perspective — and to be honest, quality of life creates tangible and intangible wealth for our community.
The newest proposal, "Gilded Springs" ("gilded: wealthy and privileged"; Microsoft Encarta) would replace historic farmland on an increasingly rare piece of urban open space that's supplying our community with healthy and tasty organic produce (created by an incredibly hard working self made "green" capitalist business man) with yet another locally unaffordable housing development built by wealthy speculators.
Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.