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Prices drive out locals in Truckee

Once a laid-back burg in the foothills, the town is on the fast track to expensive development.

June 08, 2003|From Associated Press

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Chad Bentley slept in his truck one of the first summers he lived here. Now rapid development, soaring property values and other unwelcome changes will have him driving away for good.

"The ski bum lifestyle is over here," said Bentley, who works two jobs and more than 60 hours a week to pay rent and bills. "It's driving me out."

Bentley, 32, plans to leave the town, which is tucked in the Sierra Nevada west of Reno and north of Lake Tahoe. He said it's too tough to make a living.

"It seems like it's getting more and more exclusive," Bent- ley said. "It's a lot more like a getaway for the elite."

That concern is shared by many working-class residents, young professionals, business owners and government officials.

"It's going to be pretty much like every other resort mountain town. It'll drive the locals out," said resident Tad Kirschner, who has watched local property values soar in the last few years.

One example is Tahoe Donner, a 6,200-lot Truckee subdivision now about 70% completed. As recently as 1998, lots sold for $30,000 to $35,000, said Tony Lashbrook, the town's community development director. Today, Lashbrook said, the lots sell for $130,000 to $200,000.

A decade ago, the median home price in Truckee was about $180,000. Today it is $380,000.

The situation is similar along the downtown commercial row. With the 10-year lease for his art studio expiring, Frank Rossbach said his rent will double from $3,000 per year to $6,000, which is too much. "I'm a little sour because I have to move out of town," Rossbach said. "That's happening to a lot of people up and down this strip."

Housing has long been of concern to the officials who run Northstar-at-Tahoe, which, like other ski resorts, depends on seasonal workers who cannot afford Truckee-area rents.

Since 1989, Northstar has leased the Hilltop motel in Truckee, providing 70 beds for employees. Other rooms are rented in homes and duplexes.

As part of the proposed Village at Northstar project, which will bring hundreds of additional employees to the area, the resort and East-West Partners plan a 96-unit, 380-bed affordable housing complex.

"We have been one of the first, at least in this area, to try and do something to solve the problem," said Tim Silva, vice president of Northstar-at-Tahoe.

The issue extends beyond housing for seasonal workers, others say. Programs also are needed to ensure that young professionals and year-round workers can buy homes despite skyrocketing property values.

"It's about providing homes that can be purchased," said Nikki Riley, who made the "nonexistence" of affordable housing the centerpiece of her unsuccessful campaign for town council last year. Riley is on Truckee's planning commission.

"Ten or 20 years down the road, our workforce could be made up entirely of commuters," said Riley, 29. "If we all have to move away, what are we going to be left with?"

To some, the growth some cite as the cause of the problem also can become part of the solution, said Roger Lessman of East-West Partners.

At East-West's Grays Crossing golf resort project in Truckee, 100 affordable housing units are proposed in addition to 500 market-rate homes.

Some affordable units at Grays Crossing would be rental housing for seasonal workers and others would be single-family homes that average home buyers could afford.

"It's intended for people who live and work here" -- teachers, firefighters, police officers and professionals, Lessman said. "It's intended for people to make a home in, in some cases raise a family. Development, if it's done responsibly, can address these kinds of issues."

But not all developers have responded the same way, officials said. At Squaw Valley, Intrawest Corp. is building a $250-million resort with nearly 600 condos and 80 businesses.

When Truckee officials pushed for an affordable housing component to the development, Lashbrook said, developers paid a fee to Placer County instead.

"Is any affordable housing built? No, it's not," Truckee Mayor Ted Owens said. "I think they should deal with that impact for real and not with a check. I want a high threshold to be met by developers."

And while government officials and developers are discussing the need for affordable housing, many area residents remain skeptical that the problem will be adequately addressed.

Paula Hewlett, 29, who was born and raised in Truckee, now rents a room for $500 per month. She expects that soon she will join many other former Truckee residents in moving to Reno, about 30 miles east, or to the nearby California logging towns of Loyalton and Sierraville.

Mary Putman, one of Hewlett's co-workers at a downtown Truckee art store, agrees. Putman, 55, has seen her rent increase from $800 per month to $1,450 over the last three years.

"The typical local that lives in this town and works in this town just won't be able to afford it at all," Putman said.

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