Sift through the stats on growth
The worst thing about statistics is that they are generally so dry no one takes the time to try to understand them; nearly as bad is that they are often subject to different interpretations. A new report about growth will require some major spin to keep developers on track.
Intrigued by what was recently reported in The Union (“Study forecasts housing needs,” July 26), I went to the City of Grass Valley to obtain the report – ordered by the city and paid for by developers – to see the raw data. For those of you who have not been keeping track, the city and county are facing four proposed developments which, in total, would add several thousand new homes to the immediate area of Grass Valley and, quite probably, drastically impact public services (and our taxes), traffic, air pollution, waste disposal, and quality of life.
The report (Grass Valley Phase 1 Baseline Report, first of three, the last of which will be released just before elections this fall) is an eye opener.
First, the report assumes continued growth at comparable historical rates. Note that this is a political decision and not a given. Think of the line in the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” – “if you build it, they will come.”
It was with great satisfaction that the first few charts in the report had an answer to the charge against “slow/no growth” advocates that they are elitist folk who want to close the gate on newcomers, the NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard). If you can keep from falling asleep trying to interpret the data, you will find that Nevada County’s population growth rate is 10 percent higher than the California average, and our region’s growth rate (Sierra, Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties) is almost double the California average. We are doing more than our fair share to accommodate growth.
Further, the “household” growth rate (houses built) in Nevada County is almost double the California average and the region is almost triple California’s average. This refers to the historical record of the last 10 years – actual growth, not projected. Indeed, the report says “all types of housing units were developed in Grass Valley at a faster rate of growth than throughout California” – almost double the rate for the state for the last 10 years.
Despite this rapid growth, “the household incomes earned by Grass Valley residents are significantly lower than the region.” Growth leads to prosperity?
The report notes that “fewer persons per household (retirees?) drive up the demand for housing relative to population growth.” Nevada City area’s larger decline (of persons per household during the last ten years) “may relate to the large estate homes that have been developed around Nevada City during the last decade.”
It turns out, according to this report – and to my surprise – “Grass Valley is a retail destination. Local retailers capture a significant amount of regional spending, and depend on local sales for only a small portion of their total earnings” and “Grass Valley functions as a retail destination for consumer (sic) that live in far away rural communities outside of Western Nevada County.”
Despite the huge growth Grass Valley and surrounds has experienced the last 10 years, this does not translate to local prosperity. Western Nevada County’s annual rate of overall job creation is about half of Roseville or Rocklin’s.
Again, from the report: “For-sale housing in Grass Valley is unaffordable for the majority of residents,” but “Western Nevada County functions as a relatively affordable housing market, and there is an incentive for the Placer County workforce to live in Western Nevada County and commute to work. Conversely, Yuba County … offers more affordable housing for Grass Valley workers shut out of the local housing market.”
And: “Assuming that the city continues to capture its historical rate of population growth … the city will encourage their infill properties to be developed” but “Grass Valley’s existing housing stock is densely developed.”
This developer-paid-for report suggests that despite tremendous local growth, workers can’t afford homes here; more homes built will mean more people coming to the town’s streets to buy things (and, you don’t need the report to know that “the roadways have become more congested”).
Terry Lamphier is a Grass Valley resident employed in the building trades.
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