No bust yet
Congratulations on your "Grappling with Growth" issue (HCN, 9/5/94). It will circulate around these quarters and be referenced for some time to come. I read Ed Marston's essay on a possible bust and wanted to respond with some different interpretations.
My counterparts in southern Utah see the ups and downs of the California economy in a whole different light. They are fearful of an improving California economy, and see that improvement as sending the next tidal wave of migrants surging up the streambeds to places like St. George and Cedar City. They warn us, "You folks in eastern Utah better be ready for the Californians to discover I-70 the next time they can cash in on their equity."
The same thing might be said of business location intentions. Businesses need to be able to sell their property and use that equity in a move. It is also helpful to remember that Southern California businesses had to respond to an earthquake this past year, which put immediate concerns on the front burner over long range plans.
I do agree that California prices were at unrealistic levels, but I also agree that booms aren't necessarily logical. I have a somewhat sick faith that Californians will find a way to drive those prices back up to their previously unrealistic levels again.
I especially enjoyed the analysis of transience and churn. I think this is especially true in smaller communities where the grass may have looked greener and the view charming until the reality of small town life hits home. I'm less sure of that factor in the West's micropolitan areas and edge cities. I suspect that an analysis of communities within two hours of metropolitan areas would show much less transience, as would an analysis of Boise, Bend, Grand Junction, Logan, or Flagstaff and their counterparts.
I think it may be best to understand that while overall California trend- watching may be enlightening, there are a variety of forces at work in the L.A. basin that affect decision making. It takes a small fraction of that population and business community making decisions to have a great impact on the Intermountain West. As many people have said, 14 million people living there simply isn't sustainable, and as Las Vegas and Phoenix take on all of the undesirable characteristics of that parent community, they too will start to spawn escapees.
I am heartened somewhat by an increasing recognition of the implications of these trends and a desire to plan for the finite resources that will come under pressure. Utah's Republican governor is exhorting images of Brigham Young as the West's first "Planner" and "Settlement Director" in an effort to help this state catch up on long-neglected growth-management tools. Reinventing government does appear to be trickling down to the trenches with land-management line staff and new relationships are being forged.
Whether this is enough, and timely, remains to be seen. Whether these new in-migrants will smooth or exacerbate our boom-bust history remains to be seen. What you perhaps didn't mention about Paonia was that the in-migrants of the "70s who managed to stay and survive have graced that community with a breadth and depth of talent and diversity that I suspect many oldtimers would now declare healthy.
Randy Russell is the director of Carbon County Future, a community and economic development agency in Price, Utah.