Where do you suppose all the “no-growth” advocates have disappeared to? You remember, all the folks a few years back who were alarmed about the area’s exploding rate of growth. Perhaps they have moved someplace else, along with a substantial number of former residents. The anti-growth movement should be pleased with the direction our state is headed.
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The California Department of Finance released a report last week, confirming once again that more California residents are leaving the state than moving here from other states. This net out-migration totaled 154,276 last year, with several thousands from the Sacramento region and El Dorado County. The report shows California has been steadily losing more people to other states than gaining for the last six years.
Our population is increasing. According to the Department’s Demographic Research Unit, the slight growth in the state, region and county resulted entirely from natural increases — more births than deaths — and 131,862 residents from foreign immigration (that we can count). El Dorado County had a net increase of 470 souls; although hundreds of existing residents went elsewhere. Existing residents continue to move out of our region and state at alarming levels.
It wasn’t always like that. As a boy growing up in Northeastern Ohio, California was a land of sunshine, oranges and Disneyland “where dreams came true.” Every New Year’s Day our family would gather around the black and white television and watch the Rose Parade. What a contrast Pasadena’s weather was to the cold winter wind blowing off Lake Erie piling snow up around the windows. In college I listened to the Beach Boys, imagining myself at “Surf City” surrounded by “California Girls.” California was a leading destination among states between 1960 and 2000. The attraction was more than the weather. California presented unlimited opportunities for manufacturing, resource development and service industries. It was a place where every corporation and their executives wanted to be.
At one time population growth and expansion of business was considered exciting. It was a sign of progress. New people moving into the area were welcomed. Local and county governments actually encouraged business and new developments. Many government officials actively participated with their local chambers of commerce in attracting business and industry to their communities. Somewhere along the way that changed a bit.
Many Californians, concerned about the rate of population growth and development, voiced their objections. The results of the NIMBY (not in my back yard) movement was increased litigation, new regulations and taxes called “impact fees” directed at any and all new developments. The opening of a local Walmart was no longer considered an exciting opportunity for the community. It was now an obtrusive invasion of the pristine environment, spilling unwanted traffic, pollution and miserly wages to the disadvantaged workers.
The county’s rate of growth between 2000 and 2006 alarmed some and created a backlash of opposition. Politicians campaigned on platforms of “Keeping us Rural,” pledging to prevent any new developments. Building permit and impact fees were raised to the highest in the region and affordable housing advocates complained their constituents were being priced out of the housing market by Bay Area transplants.
Public policy was initiated to slow down or prevent the feared urbanization of our rural county. Much of the General Plan, Traffic Impact Mitigation Fees and a plethora of environmental regulations were adopted in response to runaway growth. Too many new homes were being built, too much traffic was traveling Highway 50 and agriculture land was predicted to disappear completely. To protect our quality of life, it became necessary to preserve, protect or mitigate every footprint. With the benefit of hindsight, we all overreacted a little and are now suffering from our past regulation exuberance.
When a neighborhood, a community or a state has more people moving out than moving in it’s not a good sign. Property values decline, businesses close and tax revenue disappears. That’s what has happened in our county over the past few years. Property values have been declining since 2006. We have 3,000 fewer students in our local schools today and hundreds of homes stand vacant.
It’s frustrating to see friends, neighbors and clients leaving California, finding work in other states while our elected officials patiently wait for jobs to magically return. Structural regulatory changes in our state have guaranteed that many jobs for the 2 million unemployed Californians will never return. Good paying jobs in resource extraction, manufacturing and construction have been largely regulated, litigated or taxed out of existence. Our past economic recoveries have been fueled with these high-performance jobs leading the way. Not this time. Public sector employment will continue to be impacted by decreases in tax revenue and technology expansion will continue primarily to more work friendly states. It is time to make some changes.
County officials have been recently engaged in “regulatory reform,” taking a serious look at the cost-benefit value of many of our burdensome development, land use and home occupation regulations. Unfortunately, it is easier to pass new laws than repeal them. It is, however, worth the effort. Our county is in competition with other counties for jobs, capital and people, who technology has enabled to easily relocate to more favorable economic environments. We need to further promote our strength in agriculture and tourism while exploring new opportunities that will attract businesses and families.