Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thinking of moving to the country? The hidden underbelly

The post was written with this area in mind, but much of it is more widely applicable.

Yes in many ways Nevada County is a fine place to live. Small town life, pine trees, river, close to skiing, within [painful] commute distance to Sacramento, historic walkable towns, arts, music, above-the-fog-below-the-snow, community, golf, golf, more golf - as any of the real estate websites will tell you. For balance, here's the flip side.

(And this may not be wholly accurate, it's my perception only, I'm probably oversimplifying, dramatizing etc. Not making any of it up though.)

Bring your own money. For the most part the high tech companies up here aren't hiring, so most of the employment opportunities involve - in one way or another - providing services to the retirees who move here from L.A., Sacto, and the Bay Area. And relative to service industry wages, housing here is expensive.

Culture clashes. You have a modest little home in town, then find that your new next door neighbor - who moved here for the historic charm, all those cute little houses you know - wants to erect a McMansion. You buy the peaceful home in the country, then find that your neighbor likes to use his acreage for a shooting range. Or he and his children like to race their ATVs at top speed and volume up and down the shared road on your property for recreation. A shared private road means that everyone has to cooperate (and pony up) to maintain it. Not everyone will. Not all the gunfolk are aware that a speeding bullet does not respect property lines. Parts of the county have a real problem on weekends with off-road vehicles and their occasionally well-soused and well-armed drivers - apparently it's a popular destination for the wildlife of Sacramento. Meth labs. Meth addicts who don't just destroy their own lives. Garbage dumpers. Out-of-control teenage vandals on dirtbikes.

Crowding. You have a great well that yields 40+ gallons a minute; then someone moves in downslope from you and starts irrigating their extensive new landscaping with water from their great well, causing yours to go dry. Perhaps confusing the area with East Palo Alto, they install floodlights and leave them on all night.

Health and safety hazards. The San Diego fires of last fall could just as easily have happened up here - we have the classic urban-wildland interface. The history of mining means that our rivers have enough mercury in them that you shouldn't eat the trout often. Mining tunnels honeycomb the area, and sometimes they cave in, causing the ground above to subside; this is most unfortunate when part of your house lies above. Some Lyme disease. High ozone levels. Think carefully before buying that house in a low spot, since in winter everyone's woodsmoke will accumulate there. Also if you live in town and the people around you use wood heat, you'll be breathing a lot of second-hand smoke.

And (in the baseless scaremongering dept.) something I wonder about- the gravel road rock may contain serpentine which has asbestos-like fibers, which could mean that there are health consequences of inhaling road dust (of which there can be plenty, if your house is near a well-traveled gravel road). The state has set limits on the asbestos-like-fiber-content of road gravel, not sure how that translates into practice. It's probably fine...

Reminders that your pets are made out of meat. Bears, coyotes, foxes and bobcats will appreciate your supplying them with poultry. Mountain lions eat livestock and occasionally also dogs (although none of ours have developed a taste for human flesh yet); coyotes cause "lost cat" fliers to appear in town.

I tell you this in the belief that it's best to know what you might be getting into, before you make the leap. However one pattern we've noticed is that the people who leave the area do tend to move back.

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