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Our View: Being a part of that

The Union Editorial Board

The message, according to the economic guru, was that Nevada County can be part of that.

“That,” of course, being technology expanding from Sacramento, up Interstate 80 and into rural areas. “That” is a reliable internet connection, more housing, and more people.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if Nevada County wants any part of that.

Christopher Thornberg, director of the UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development, has spoken for years at the Economic Resource Council’s annual summit. His prognostication this year about the future might not have required sunglasses, but it was rosy.

Business investment, software, and industrial equipment all were up, he said. Debt hasn’t grown, and the housing market is through the roof.

But here’s the real nugget of Thornberg’s talk: “People need to get used to change and they need housing. The population has barely grown in the decade, yet people want to live in this beautiful place.”

Nevada County get used to change? That’s a tall order, when a portion of the county wants to pull up the drawbridge at the Bear River and encase us in a snow globe.

Most people will agree that we need affordable housing, but that doesn’t mean they all want it here. We all want our baristas and fast food workers churning out our food and drink perfectly, quickly, though we’re not all on the same page about how much they should be paid.

All of these factors — housing, jobs, the workforce — are linked. We need affordable housing so the fast food workers, as well as the teachers, police officers and firefighters, can live in this community. They, in turn, want parks and schools for their children.

Cities aren’t composed of buildings and landscaping. They’re made of people who have a wide variety of needs and wants. We can choose to provide the things they want, or not.

Either way, Thornberg is right: Change is coming.

Thankfully, this community isn’t a detached observer in this process. All of us play a role in the coming change.

We can lobby our elected officials to relax the rules they have control over. The state doesn’t hold a monopoly over what we can build here. Our local government has control of zoning, meaning it determines what type of housing can go where.

We have zones with multi-acre minimums for residences. Rules restrict trailers on certain residential properties. We don’t have enough apartment complexes in areas like Penn Valley and South County.

We could use some tiny homes, mobile home parks and modular homes in Nevada County. We could use a more robust plan for helping the county’s homeless population, getting them out of the woods and into shelter with wrap-around services.

Or do we not want that?

None of this happens overnight, but instead happens through a gradual change in our beliefs and actions. Change comes in government when people repeatedly speak to their elected officials, in public forums and written correspondence. It comes when people with a vision run for office, and become part of a system to help improve our county.

There will always be those opposed to change like this. You hear it at Planning Commission meetings, and read it in the lawsuits. There’s a strong element pushing against any new development and any new housing. They want Nevada County to stay exactly how it is.

The problem with that is nothing stays static. If the people who oppose any development get their way, our county won’t stay like it is indefinitely. The housing situation will become worse, and people who can’t afford $750,000 homes will continue disappearing as the years pass. Fewer children will enroll in our schools each year, and our demographics will only continue to skew older.

Without younger people at the start or in the middle of their careers, services will leave the area. Like Thornberg said, people will go to where they can get housing they can afford. Maybe that’s Arizona or Nevada, or Texas.

And our county will slowly wither into a shell of what it once was.

How about that?

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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