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To Be or Not to Be, Mountain Communities Have a Choice

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Technology and globalization make hard choices easier.

You can comparison shop for a new vacuum cleaner in minutes. In a couple of clicks, you can check out other people’s opinions about a restaurant. And due to telecommuting, no more do you have to choose between a mountain lifestyle and having a “real career.”

People can now work in the high-paying field of tech while being based in one of the West’s adventure communities. It’s the best of both worlds. Sage Sauerbrey explores how Truckee/Tahoe is hard at work leveraging this fact, see Grow Smart.

Yet with technology, as with many human creations, there are unintended side effects that we often sort through after the fact — a well-known consequence of human folly. Think Industrial Revolution. DDT. Real estate derivatives.

Case in point in the field of tech: After a honeymoon period with Airbnb and other user-driven vacation rental websites, communities are now in the process of sorting out the far-reaching impacts of these sharing-economy platforms, see opinion piece.

Visitors to beautiful mountain towns use online short term rentals to find more affordable lodging while at the same time getting an authentic experience, temporarily living in local neighborhoods. Meanwhile, homeowners get additional revenue to pay pricey mortgages. Those are real benefits.

Yet, the short term rental market is also precipitating a rapid and significant crushing of mountain communities, including our own. While affordable housing has long been an issue boiling beneath the surface across the West, short-term rentals are pushing a teetering system over the edge.

Higher salaries of buyers and the option of short term rental revenue is driving up home prices quickly. The middle class is being squeezed out and the effects are tangible. In Truckee/Tahoe, the majority of the workforce now drives in from out of the area and this trend seems to be accelerating at a frightening rate.

The element of choice is at play here — people who own a home in the mountains usually want to be able to use it, so they choose to do a short term rental, over long term, so they can reserve time for themselves. This choice is logical and protected by democratic ideals; America is based on the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

The almighty dollar and our right to choose what to do with our private property are indeed powerful fundamentals we must respect. But there is also a need, a social contract of sorts, to respect when our decisions are wreaking havoc on others. It’s a choice whether or not to take this into account.

It’s not just an altruistic exercise either. People move here because they dig the scene. If only those who can afford a half-million dollar home remain, then the schools, hospitals, emergency services, restaurants, stores, and more will struggle to have staff. The ‘scene’ will fade away.

Right now, our community has a mandate — we must make a choice between maintaining a vibrant Sierra hamlet or ending up a ghost town. I think the choice is clear. Especially for this jewel of a place.

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March 8, 2018