Will Truckee be the next Aspen?
It has been over a year since my editorial “The Aspenization of Truckee.” Inspired by proposed design guideline changes in a local subdivision, the premise of the original piece was that such changes would prove costly and unduly increase housing expense.
They would ultimately hurt those that live and work in our community. Aspen, Colo., was the model chosen largely because “locals” there can’t afford to live in their town at all. They commute to it. Not wishing the same for our town … why accelerate the process with onerous guideline changes? Let the market take care of the market.
What a difference a year makes. Who could have known that the market, in such short order, would do just that. In a span of one year, property values in Truckee escalated at unprecedented rates and land availability is, well … unavailable. At the time of this writing, there are five lots for sale in all of Tahoe Donner and for values well more than double those of just one year ago. Homes are in short supply and the “entry level” benchmark is about $200,000. Although not there just yet, it seems as though Truckee has made major steps toward “sister city” status with Aspen.
Our rental market is tight, expensive and likely to become much worse with housing needs driven by the IntraWest project in Olympic Valley, Caltrans’ construction of the bypass and reconstruction of portions of Interstate 80, and other development bringing in labor from out of the region.
Is it anyone’s fault? Could it have been prevented? Judging by letters to the editor as of late, the “Town Planners” are “power-crazed people” planning “our futures without prior input.” Not only is this far from the truth, I’d wager it’s pretty darned insulting to the many citizens that did participate and offer input in the development of our General Plan and more recently, Truckee’s Development Code. Believe it or not, our town planners are top flight in their profession and choose to live in this community for the same reasons we all do. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t anybody’s fault – not the town staff, planning commission, town council, realtors, builders or citizens at large.
Instead, we are witness to an economy in an order of magnitude never before seen. What is happening here and throughout California is directly out of Economics 101. Namely, it’s the relationship between unlimited wants and scare resources.
This expanding and perhaps adolescent economy based in technological advancement produces an average of 64 new millionaires each day in Silicon Valley. They have unlimited wants and we have scarce resources in the form of land both developed and undeveloped. Truckee has become another “thing” to own a piece of, just like a new SUV or a membership in some exclusive country club. Plainly, locals cannot compete.
The exodus to Reno, Verdi and especially Sierraville is already under way because of the expense of it all. Still others leave for different reasons. I suppose it doesn’t hurt as bad when a “twenty something” software engineer with a bag of cash likes your house.
Growth is a reality and the forces are great both economically and in population. Have you ever taken a comparative look at the birth announcements and the obituaries in the newspaper? Last week the Sierra Sun announced 31 births alone.
We all have something to do with the changes occurring in our town. The thing about Truckee, that makes Truckee, is not lost. We all care about the direction of our collective future and therefore it is incumbent upon each of us to participate in the process of self determination. The citizens of Truckee are empowered to do this. Do not scoff at “open meetings”… attend them. During the more than 16 public meetings on the Development Code alone, an average of a half dozen citizens attended regularly, that’s about one person for every 2,000 members of this community.
Pointing fingers at each other in a vacuum shall serve us poorly and bear no fruit for what is a common goal … remaining Truckee and not allowing ourselves to become Aspen.
Ted Owens is the president of the Contractors Association of Truckee-Tahoe, and a Truckee Planning Commissioner.
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