Terry Lamphier: ‘Free market’ rural growth: does it pay?
While “quality of life” means different things to different people, everyone understands “wallet” (more on this in a minute).
Growth advocates appear remarkably unconcerned about fire safety, increased traffic impacts, loss of habitat, replacement of small businesses with generic chain stores, etc., always trumping “free market” forces over everything else — even common sense.
Granted construction of housing and new stores put dollars into a community, but does it really pass the “cost versus benefit” test?
The growing phenomenon of massive and more frequent wildfires in communities such as ours is tipping the scales against economic arguments for further big construction projects in rural areas, adding to the less tangible “quality of life” arguments.
Wildfires alone are adding to everyone’s cost of insurance (if you can get it), utility bills (coming soon), home construction (fire “safe” construction), police and fire services (expanding staffing, overtime pay, treating PTSD and physical health ailments), brush clearing/mitigation (which needs to be done widely and regularly), waste disposal of hazardous fire debris and water treatment (see Paradise), new/improved road construction and so on.
Note that these direct and growing costs of expanding growth in dangerous fire zones such as Nevada County, particularly growth-obsessed Grass Valley, are passed on to all of us. Any responsible handling of money would first start with “when you are in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” Your freedom to profit from building conflicts with my freedom to not bear the costs of your profits to myself and my community.
It was Republicans who pushed the “cost/benefit” concept of examining new government regulations (Do new regulations pose excessive costs outweighing economic benefits?), so let’s put the concept to the test locally.
Good government would exhibit informed leadership, not reflect outdated 20th century tropes about alleged benefits of economic growth without current and inclusive data about direct and indirect economic and safety impacts.
Going forward, local leaders (including Grass Valley Councilmember and California League of Cities representative Jan Arbuckle) could be a role model for the state by conducting honest and responsible due diligence before continuing our rural community’s current big growth model.
Apparently our silent leaders fear crossing paths with big developers promising nirvana through cutting trees, clogging roads, choking off local businesses and, perhaps, literally putting our lives at increased risk by putting new developments in the firewise equivalent of flood plains.
Responsible leadership would hold off on the perceived bonanza of growth (mostly benefiting local and out-of- area land speculators, big developers, chain store franchises and urban immigrants) by instituting a moratorium on issuing new permits for big projects and start the process of learning true hard costs to our community.
We need a collaboration of Cal Fire, the Department of Transportation, meteorologists, climate change experts, unbiased economists, health experts, public safety officers, local residents and, yes, developers to thoroughly assess wind patterns, road capacities, projected impacts of current climate change trends, rising insurance/utility/infrastructure/health/regulatory/public safety and other costs (spread to all of us to benefit a few).
Local Grass Valley leaders like to promote our community as something special. How about we become a public safety role model for rural areas statewide? Gov. Newsom is promising financial assistance for fire safety — a perfect funding mechanism — and the process we develop and use could be adapted by others, cutting local and statewide taxpayer costs dramatically by reducing duplication of effort and implementing true rural “smart growth” policies.
At the end of the day, we will know that we have done the best we can to understand the true costs and benefits of growth in rural areas. Some would call this common sense.
Or, we can wait for urban residents, who are the majority of the state’s voters, to get fed up with subsidizing dangerous growth in fire hazard areas and impose new “one-size-fits-all” statewide regulations, as opposed to far-seeing communities who learn what’s best for them and have the data to prove it.
Leaders, isn’t it time to lead?
Terry Lamphier, a former Nevada County supervisor, lives in Grass Valley.
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