Terry Lamphier: Housing construction on fire
Once again our local firefighting superheroes have saved our bacon by keeping the most recent Grass Valley area fires from threatening our town and our airport’s firefighting base. Unfortunately, they can’t hose off local elected officials hot on approving more housing developments.
Despite our dubious distinction of being the largest northern Sierra foothills city in CalFire’s “high/extreme” evacuation-impaired fire danger area, so far the hottest thing going is construction.
While it’s tricky to track exactly what’s being built, here’s a list of housing projects recently approved, with most under construction: Berriman Ranch, 30 houses; Timberwoods Estates, 48 houses; Ridge Meadows, 37 houses; Town Talk, 11 houses; Dorsey Marketplace (proposed), 90 to 174 apartments; Loma Rica Ranch phase one, 240 houses (of up to or over 700; numbers vary); Brunswick Commons , 41 units (low income); The Pines, 104 apartments; Gracie Commons , 16 units; Cashin’s Field 56 apartments; The Grove , 71 units. This totals at least 744 housing units, with another 540 or so either approved or nearly so, for an overall total of over 1,200 housing units.
Existing housing units for Nevada City and Grass Valley total 7,860 (now probably slightly more, not counting the current construction explosion), according to Nevada County’s 2013-14 Demographic and Statistical Profile. Housing being built is more than a 15% increase of housing stock over mostly the past three years. Past reports put California and the U.S. growth rate at about 1% per year, versus arguably 5% per year for western Nevada County.
If you think adding hundreds of daily mining waste truck trips is bad, consider housing’s auto impacts. City planners assume each household, with two adults, generates more than one auto trip per day — all this in an area that the American Lung Association awards an “F” for ozone levels due to local and regional auto traffic. At two persons per household, new construction will soon add at least 1,500 to 2,400 adults and hundreds more automobiles to city streets.
Aside from adding global-warming greenhouse gases and unhealthy air, single-family residential housing does not pay for itself. Take Grass Valley City Council’s recent minor boost to developer impact fees.
Past Grass Valley Council-commissioned studies noted that the “net fiscal impact of land uses per residential unit” results in a tax revenue deficit of $525 per single family residence. Factoring in the $5,000-plus onetime impact fees imposed per house by the city, simple math shows that this only covers shortfalls for about 10 years — or less, if one factors in ever rising city labor and material costs. Their consultants went on to say that to address this shortfall, “it is critical to grow the job base along with future residential development.” The council apparently believes we do this by building more houses.
For years, Grass Valley elected officials have shown no interest in establishing a sustainable environmental or economic model (Hilary Hodge is the exception — thanks, Hilary!), preferring instead to go for short-term economic “health” by essentially relying on new growth to pay for past growth. Adding to their “voodoo-Ponzi“economics, by now we are or should be increasingly aware of the many other detrimental impacts of our developer-friendly government officials’ short-term thinking (fire danger, failing infrastructure, water shortages, etc.).
For years, Grass Valley career politicians, with the strong backing of the Nevada County Contractors Association and its very conservative political action committee, have piled on housing development approvals, fighting particularly hard for the massive Loma Rica development project.
They fought to build the multi-million dollar Dorsey Interchange project, which an early CalTrans report said was primarily for the Loma Rica development (leaders argued “it’s for the hospital”). They inappropriately used $5 million in redevelopment money (intended to fight urban blight) to bridge Dorsey’s funding shortfall (later rescinded by the state).
They sued the Nevada County Airport Commission to protect Loma Rica development rights of several prominent local real estate, business and building contractor speculators, including the treasurer of the Nevada County Contractor’s Association Political Action Committee.
To avoid drawn-out litigation and delay of construction, the Grass Valley City Council unanimously supported and signed off on a compromise deal that included having the city assume liability for overriding federal aeronautics safety rules regarding development in airports dangerous take-off areas. The agreement allows up to 116 houses in the lawsuit area where a small plane crashed two years ago. All to build housing locals can’t afford.
Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.
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