The Verdi Solution

Sierra County Verdi

Verdi is an area of Sierra County which borders Nevada. It is less than twenty minutes from Reno. It is one hour and forty-four minutes from the county seat at Downieville. Reno is where most people in Verdi get services.

It is also 25 minutes from Truckee and less than an hour from Lake Tahoe. Called a "sleepy village" by one real estate site, Verdi is a real estate boom waiting to happen. Sierra County has approved two subdivisions in Verdi. Several are approved in the area on the Nevada side of the border.

It’s easy to get dollars signs in your eyes at this point. Think of it, houses being built in Sierra County, maybe even businesses that turn a big profit.

But, Verdi California is almost a non-entity; Verdi is in Nevada, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It might be best for Sierra County if it were in Nevada.

The "Verdi-Mogul Census Designated Area"

If you drive through Verdi, you’ll see the development follows a natural course along the highway and along the nicer draws and valleys without regard to state line. In years past there was some complaint because the California side of town paid higher taxes, but that is likely no longer true. The border is easy to spot as there are casinos there. The majority of the big dollar growth has been just over the line in Verdi Nevada and the surrounding "Mogul" area. There is some growth on the California side, even as far south as Nevada County.

Verdi, the Sierra County part, is the location in the county most likely to grow, but it remains to be seen if the $700,000 lots so plentiful across the highway will sell on the California side. Still, it is likely that the "development effect" will work there, and eventually we’ll see the lots in SC Verdi flesh out with expensive homes.

For some people, that is a good thing. Sierra County is at constant risk of being absorbed by larger counties just to keep the paper work down at the state. Some nice houses there would generate some tax revenue. We have to send many of our people out of the area to find work and bring money in. Verdi would be like having a kid who lived just down the block from King Midas, who sends money home.

Looking at it as a sociologist, I notice something else. Rule number one in community development is: power follows money.

Right now (actually, July, 2007), the "Verdi-Mogul Census Designated Area" has 3886 people. That isn’t Sierra County’s little piece of the area, which, right now, has far fewer people. In the interest of fairness, Sierra County Verdi is not well represented in the data. The average house value there is probably less than that of some neighboring areas. However, this is not likely to remain the case. Verdi California is every bit a nice as Verdi Nevada, and maybe more so. The area is growing, and two new subdivisions in the Sierra County side will add a lot of people, assuming the economy ever starts moving again. Subdivisions beget subdivisions; the population will grow quickly. Very likely, within a decade or so Verdi will be where the people are. They will still be twenty minutes from Reno and nearly two hours from Downieville.

We notice something else: the average household in our current metropolis, Loyalton, makes about $49,425, according to the 2007 estimate. The same data for the Verdi area is $84,978. The value of the average house in Verdi is $528,283; the average home in Loyalton is worth about $228,662.

Forecast (not very far) forward in time: The population of "Sierra County" Verdi at 1000 is now larger than Loyalton, nearly 2.5 times as large as Downieville. The value of land and income there is nearly twice that of Loyalton*.

Now, suppose people in the county have to vote on spending money. Sierra County Verdi, who are people who have an economic life in Washoe County Nevada, may not vote the same way as people in the valley and the canyons. This difference in class, culture and lifestyle will make old fashioned rivalry between the East and West sides of the Yuba seem like what it is: cousins squabbling. The power play with Verdi will be very much more one-sided.

We are already feeling another unintended consequence of growth in Verdi: the Fire District 1 developer fee. The fee is used in other suburban-wild land growth areas, where it makes sense because homes are built in chunks by developers. The developer fee will, I have predicted, have a negative impact elsewhere in the county, but the Verdi-Mogul CDA has a healthy 25% of the population under 18 years (the median age is older, though, about 44; hence the golf courses going in). The burden of the fee bears most heavily on those who actually live on the Sierra County economy, not the Reno economy.

If everyone in Sierra County woke up tomorrow and said, "I don’t want to be run by people from Reno, Nevada" there wouldn’t be too much we could do. It was relatively easy to give La Porte to Plumas county, but harder to give Verdi to Reno. That wouldn’t solve the problem, anyway, because the nice land would go to Reno and the scrub hills would remain Sierra County, and by and by trailer parks would appear on the SC side where people who served the rest of the population (waitresses, house keepers, store and casino clerks; the people who now drive twenty minutes from Reno) would live.

What can we do?

If we do nothing but follow accepted protocol, money will eventually flow in to the county from Verdi, and eventually, when Verdi wags, it will be Sierra County that moves back and forth.

Giving it to Nevada County might work, but we’d have to provide a dowry, probably Stampede. There is no doubt that Nevada County is more set up to handle the "Urbanized rural growth" of the area, where people from cities move in and expect the services they had in the city.

If we do something, anything, we will be making compromises, losing something and gaining something.

We could insist the county zone the area just so. Likely, someone with a gross annual income of twice the County’s would want to sue. Further, we would open the door in the county for all kinds of land use restrictions, as though there weren’t enough bureaucrats on the building site.

We could get Homeland Security to build a fence around it to keep them Verdinians out. (I meant this to be humorous, but stupid ideas like this have real currency today; please don’t suggest this to Homeland Sec).

We really could give it to Nevada County, but then what?

We’ll keep Sierra County Verdi, but as time goes by and the area urbanizes, the people there are not going to share our values, and Downieville is a long ways off. Loyalton and Downieville will become even less pertinent to the 21st century than they are.

The Solution

The best answer by far doesn’t focus on Verdi, but the rest of the county. In a way, it is the symbol of what Verdi represents that should concern us most: the ability to bring money into the county that was generated elsewhere. Rural counties will always be subject to the nearest large city. Still, I believe we should be generating our own incomes here. Rather than sending our children to make their fortunes elsewhere and selling our land to retirees and people working in Nevada (no offense, really), we should be focused on sustainability and self sufficiency in the county. Our children shouldn’t have to leave to make a living.

The answer to the problem of Verdi is to strengthen the rest of the county. Verdi deserves to grow, and deserves county representation and services. The problem is the weakness and loss of pertinence of the rest of the county.

Make the dog healthier. This is not a new idea. There have been lots of schemes to make the county solvent. A Mickey Mouse recreation area at Independence Lake; a housing subdivision in Long Valley, a wafer board plant, even a prison. The problem each of these suffered from in my view is that they were single employer projects. Single employer economies are always plagued with "what if… the mill closes, the plant closes, the mine closes" and so on.

Instead, we should work as a single community to create a network of small businesses, some working on the internet, sure, but many doing what our people do well, what they have always done well, making things and growing things.

If we worked to create and support small businesses that might employ only a few people, from just family to five to ten employees, working from a home business to a small business at the old mill or the empty hotel in Loyalton or in Sierra City or wherever, we would have a diversified economy, not dependent on the fortunes of a single company. The money we make here would stay here.

There are a whole lot of home and small manufacturing ideas that don’t work; they are easy to find in your email spam or the back of small magazines. It’s darn hard to make it as a small business. It’s tough to find a marketable product, and hard to find distributors, and a lot of people who are good with their hands aren’t so good with forms and numbers.

Sierra County Prospect has started a "Made is Sierra County" page. We’ve approached several people with home business that make jewelry, furniture and so on. They all fear the county, or the state Board of Equalization. None make enough money to justify doing a lot of paper work, but all would like to increase their sales. It could be much easier for them to get information.

But, it would be a community wide effort, remember? We have many experts in our community, and some I know would volunteer, to teach a class or maybe help someone who wanted to start a small business. Further, in Sierra County as in few other places, our county workers are also our neighbors and friends. Sierra County government has a good track record of responding to community efforts.

I’m not being critical of people who live in the county but are working and living part time in other areas. Most of you that I know would happily stay right here and work your profession. That should be a community goal, that professionals can make a living in, or from, Sierra County.

The midst of a depression (call it what you will) might seem a bad time to start new small businesses, but this isn’t always so. Sierra County Prospect is a small business, and we are optimistic.

To share our optimism, we’ll host a page where anyone producing a product locally can advertise for free: Made in Sierra County. Please use it.





*If we project that the SC portion of Verdi has 1000 people, and that they have the same relative income and home value as the other portions of Verdi-Mogul, and if we assume that Loyalton actually grows in the next five to ten years instead of getting smaller as it has been, then there will be about 800 people in Loyalton. The home value in Loyalton is about 43% of that of V-M and the income is about 58%, so the 200 population advantage and the combined advantages of income and house value work out to give SC Verdi a two hundred percent advantage in total value. It could easily be less than twice as much, but it could also be more.

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