What can we learn from Truckee?

Thanks to Steve Frisch for a thoughtful post on this blog:

When I moved to the Sierra Nevada 30 years ago it was largely because I wanted to live in a more rural place and I loved the mountains. I knew I wanted to live at elevation but could have chosen any number of places–south western Colorado, southern inland Oregon, and northern New Mexico were all visited and on the list–eventually settling on Truckee-Tahoe for a number of reasons.

But I did not move blind, over the years i had done some research, much of it through state and federal statistical resources like the Bureau of Economic Statistics, the USDA and the California Department of Finance. In those days of course that meant a good library.

Truckee in 1985 was very much like the rest of Nevada County. It was hard to extrapolate numbers because it was unincorporated, today the statistical record is much clearer. It was hovering at roughly the same demographic profile as the rest of the County with a slightly higher than state average median age, relatively low population growth, roughly the same (but slightly higher) level educational attainment, its average median household income was roughly the same as the rest of the County, housing was roughly equal in property value, although already the shift to higher end housing had begun with the addition of Tahoe-Donner, then reputed to be the largest sub-division in California history.

I went back a couple months ago to review all the newly available digitalized data and tried to pull out Truckee figures based on census block info and indeed my original digitally devoid judgement was verified, Truckee versus the rest of Nevada County, roughly the same.

Truckee today has a median household income almost 20% higher than the rest of Nevada County and higher than the statewide average.

Nevada County (with Truckee included is lower than the statewide average by 2% and take Truckee out and t’s lower by 5%). Property values in Truckee have increased at more than triple the rate of increase in the rest of the County.

The average age of Truckee resident is now more than 10 years younger than the rest of the county.

Truckee’s population has grown three times faster than the rest of the County (16% between 2001-2011 compared to 9% in California and 6% in all of Nevada County including Truckee. Take the Truckee growth numbers out and the county has grown about 2%)

Truckee’s educational attainment has far outstripped the rest of the County (55% of residents 25 and older have college degrees compared to 42% in Nevada County and 37% in California.)

For the last 15 years (including through the recession) Truckee’s unemployment rate has been consistently lower than the rest of Nevada County.

In 1990 Truckee accounted for 14% of the County’s employment, by 2010 it accounted for 24% of the County’s employment.

Over the years if Truckee has had one significant weak spot it has been that due to population growth and housing shortages the gap between wages and housing affordability has increased and the number of people commuting into the community from outside for employment has increased.

I am saying all of this to highlight an issue.

Truckee is not an inherently ‘better’ place to live than the rest of Nevada County, as a matter of fact the assets of the western County in many ways outstrip Truckee’s. Access to recreation is just as good, you can be at a ski resort in an hour if you want to, western Nevada County communities are actually more architecturally interesting and historic, there is far more access to the arts in the western County, and you don’t need to deal with the dramatic temperature variations the higher elevation does, your climate is temperate year round.

Truckee has not fared well because all winter resort communities are faring well. Ski/snowboarding numbers across the country are flat or down. If one looks at the economics and compares Truckee to other resort towns Truckee has outperformed Mammoth, Crested Butte, and dozens of other ski towns. Granted Park City, Vail, Aspen have done pretty well, but it ain’t the resort economy that accounts for Truckee’s performance. If there is a huge recreation growth industry that Truckee has taken advantage of its actually summer sports, a place where the western County could definitely fare well.

So what is it?

First and foremost Truckee has, since incorporation in 1994, developed a community and political culture that is highly collaborative. There is always some controversy in any community but Truckee has consistently been able to tackle even the most controversial issues, sharply disagree, and then meet at the supermarket or regional park and be friends. I think this comes from a couple of things: the historic isolation of the community from the rest of the County and the sense that if we were going to do something we had do it for ourselves, the influx of people from a Bay area corporate culture that embraced collaborative models of work, decision-making and commerce far earlier than the rest of the region, and the relative youth of community residents containing a higher number of community stakeholders schooled in collaborative values.

Truckee has even gone so far as to adopt a set of principles for governance that elected officials hold each other too called The Truckee Way. I think people initially laughed at this as some sort of unenforceable pie in the sky idea, but the reality is it creates a benchmark that the citizens hold their officials too, which has substantively worked.


Second, Truckee has invested wisely, bringing about 500 units of affordable housing on line in the last 15 years with more coming, investing in first time home buyer and rental assistance programs and inclusionary zoning, redesigning its downtown to be pedestrian and bike friendly, building trail networks in the surrounding community, and developing an achievable Capital Improvement Plan that articulates the future vision of the community. Yes of course every community has a CIP, but Truckee’s is almost universally supported by the community, is coordinated with and enhanced by the plans of special districts, and creates a center that tax policy and fundraising can be focused on.


Third, Truckee has consistently enhanced its relationship with the Bay area as a source of new ideas, capital, new residents, and distance employment. The growth of organizations like Silicon Mountain, the Truckee Makers Space, the Tahoe Food Hub, Thrive Tahoe, and the consistently increasing number of employees of Bay are firms working remotely is testament to an inclusionary and tolerant spirit that attracts investment.

Finally, increasingly Truckee is investing in catalyzing economic development by adopting an economic development element of its general plan, developing an economic development strategy, creating a direct economic development investment program using public funds, creating clear metrics to assess the effectiveness of public investments including for job creation and capital leveraged. In short, Truckee actually takes it seriously and is emotionally invested rather than devolving economic development strategies and implementation sole to third parties. Truckee also sees climate risk and an economic issue and is proactively developing a community climate strategy to help it adapt to changes in climate.

I am saying all of this not because of community pride, although Possess pride. I seems elf not as a citizen of Truckee or even Nevada County, but as a citizen of the Sierra. We should look across the region figure out what has worked, and learn from it, regardless of its source.

-Steve Frisch

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

13 thoughts on “What can we learn from Truckee?”

  1. There are a couple of typos in the last few paragraphs. It should read:

    “In short, Truckee actually takes it seriously and is emotionally invested rather than devolving economic development strategies and implementation solely to third parties. Truckee also sees climate risk as an economic issue and is proactively developing a community climate strategy to help it adapt to changes in climate.

    I am saying all of this not because of community pride, although I possess community pride. I see myself not as a citizen of Truckee, or even Nevada County, but as a citizen of the Sierra. We should look across the region figure out what has worked, and learn from it, regardless of its source.”

  2. Your observations, thoughts, conclusions and suggestions make a great deal of sense. Please forward this to our Board of Supervisors, Nevada City and Grass Valley City Councils, business and civic organizations. Indeed, I suggest that you disseminate it to a regional and State-wide readership.

  3. Truckee’s vote on W may be revealing to the rest of the county, given that supposedly the demographic of Truckee is something the BOS professes to desire in new residents. Nice to have the numbers to back up the suspicions.

  4. Interesting post Steve. I would add that with the recent research from the Place-Based Marketing Initiative ( a Government, Chamber, Public/Private Partnership), we (leadership, community) are clearer than ever on Truckee Core Values, laying the foundation for thoughtful decisions. Those core values are quality of life, healthy lifestyle, natural beauty, community minded and history/culture.

  5. I love Truckee and agree with most of your poetic waxing. However, there is something intrinsiclly wrong with a city where over 80% (might be closer to 90% now) of its firefighters and teachers have to live in another state altogether. It’s easy to gloss over the part time “help”, but these are full time professionals who have been elbowed off the hill by wealthy second home owners who have no “roots” (such as kids in school) in the community what so ever. A largely out of town work force servicing a part time community has hollowed out some of the town’s soul. You can’t define that in your numbers.

    1. Jon, I agree with you that one of the problems with ‘success’ has been the housing shortage for middle income workers in the community. (I’m not sue the numbers are 90% but I will send a few e-mails and see if I can get a handle on the numbers).

      I don’t think we should gloss over part time help nor should we ignore the reds of full time professionals, I don’t really think I ‘glossed’ it over.

      Amongst Sierra cities and counties Truckee has done a creditable job of encouraging the growth of affordable housing in the community, entitling almost 500 units in the last 15 years and with hundreds more coming on line in the next few years.

      I’ve worked on two of those projects recently trying to secure funding for affordable housing, and helped secure an $8 million grant last year for 60 more units. We are working on another roughly 60 units right now.

      But I agree more could be done.

      I have lived here almost 30 years and I agree that there was time when the community seemed to be hollowing out as you out it. I think that had a lot to do with the almost ridiculous increase in real estate values across the country and in the state from the late 90’s to the mid-2000’s and the concomitant increases in the Truckee market. The Town was probably slow to react at the time, but the planning for housing could not keep pace with the increases in value, and then the real estate crash halted progress toward a better mix if housing affordability.

      I think Truckee learned a valuable lesson and has been working hard to identify a more appropriate mix of housing and encouraging it through pretty progressive polices for inclusionary housing and aggressively trying to site new affordable and attainable housing in the community. There are at least 3 new projects moving now with a unique mix of affordable 1-2-3 bedroom units and cottage style development that can help alleviate the problem.

  6. I agree Colleen, Truckee has done a good job talking about and embracing a strong set of community values to help them not only brand the region but help create common ground around community issues.

  7. Thank you Steve for writing this. I hope our City Councils, BOS, Chambers of Commerce, School Boards, School Administration, Board of Realtors et.al. read this. I hope they read it, understand it and, hopefully, act upon it.

    1. To be clear the intent f this article is not some sort of rubble of the west…indeed I love the west….it is to challenge us to collectively look across the region and incorporate the best ideas and practices from wherever they come. I wish Truckee had western Nevada Counties cultural assets and its sense of identity focused on a river (which is happening thanks to the Truckee River Watershed Council).

      1. Well said about the western end’s cultural assets and focus on the river. It is a recurring theme in our magazine. The Fall issue was a special report on the Yuba River (http://www.sierraculture.com/foodwineart/past-issues/fall-2015/#.V0-47JMrJjs) and our current issue is a special report on our arts & culture assets (http://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=296128&p=&pn=#{“issue_id”:296128,”page”:0}). We are proud to point this out.

        Having said that, I often I discouraged that the west end doesn’t listen or care enough about the successes of the east end, and we can learn from each other!

  8. What a hoot from the western Nevada County wackadoodle contingent!

    “Todd Juvinall June 1, 2016 at 4:41 PM
    I recall a 5-0 vote to allow a Kmart in next to the freeway and the cemetery back in 1990 or so. The merchants downtown sued and won with a decision by a chicken-shit judge. The regular folks (working poor) wanted the K-Mart for prices and convenience. Well the hoity toity won and the poor had to drive to Reno for a shirt they could afford. Frisch is all about the rich not the poor working people.”

    In fact, this decision led Truckee to pursue incorporation as a town, setting it on a path to prosperity! And Truckee has an outlet mall in its town for the locals to shop at, not to mention some great local shops.

    As for Todd, he made no mention of the Wildwood Ridge bond fiasco when he was a Supe. Local public policymaking under Todd — from Wildwood bonds to the environment (Yuba River, etc). — was a disaster.

    1. Yes. and I think it was Todd who helped make that ill advised 5-0 vote. Apparently the peanut gallery over at Sierra Dragons Breath[e] doesn’t understand that household and median income are measured in the place of primary residence. Someone I know would call that innumerate.

  9. As usual, Todd has contributed nothing of value in his comments. just more sweeping generalities venting his pile of internal prejudices. The man really can’t connect the dots regarding any higher level thought process. And as long as western Nevada Co. bends to the agenda of that Scopes monkey trial type crowd represented by several bloggers, the area will suffer, as will all in years to come.

    And what you say Steve, regarding Truckee’s recognition of beneficial and attainable goals is encouraging. Having also lived and vacationed in ski resort communities, including Aspen, I know how income disparities usually force the majority of locals to live “way out of town;” that or have a crowd sharing an inexpensive rental. In Aspen we had five crammed into about 500 sq. feet. But the players who have the loudest voice in such resort communities, as the owners of the mountain upon which skiing and snow boarding flourish do, and like in Aspen at times, Saudi princes and others with eight figure incomes, naturally have a louder voice than the worker assisting skiers on to a lift. At least that is how the destination resort areas I was familiar with, mostly in Colorado and Vermont, upstate New York and throughout New England. It is unfortunate some employees can’t live where they work, but even teachers in Truckee’s schools will be deeply invested in the community. At least that was my experience during my 15 years of teaching.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s