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.