Monday, June 2, 2008

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part III): Rural Gentrification

So, we’ve been back in El Dorado and Amador Counties looking at property again. I’ve decided on a convenient way of dividing the properties we see into two broad categories. I call them the “end of the world” properties and the “rural gentrification” properties. In this post, I’m going to talk about the latter category, which might also be thought of as “rural light.”

These properties are often in “developments,” sometimes even referred to as “subdivisions.” One we’ve looked at is called Showcase Ranches, and it has almost enough covenants and restrictions to be in a Sacramento suburb. I note that such covenants and restrictions are a way in which law is present (at least potentially so) in the lives of residents, whereas rural residents not living in such “communities” have more autonomy about how to use their property. Residents have made a choice, by buying land there, to regulate the space and to be regulated, something not typically associated with rural people and places.

Showcase Ranches is listed as a “Community Service District” – whatever that is—on the El Dorado County Local Agency Formation Commission website. The “lots” (as opposed to parcels) are 20-acres or larger. The roads are paved; electric lines run throughout. Last time we were up, I noted that they even have garbage collection services! Many of the homes that are visible from the roads that run through the subdivision – and that includes quite a few – appear to have been built in the past coupla’ decades. Several are horse properties, but few seem to be used actively in agriculture or viticulture. Yet Showcase Ranches is rural in that lots are quite large, and the homes are often not within sight of one another. Also, it isn’t particularly near any metropolitan area; it is an hour or so from greater Sacramento. It’s about 20 miles from the county seat of Placerville and almost twice as far from exurban El Dorado Hills.

But, right in the midst of the Fairplay wine region of El Dorado County and very close to Shenandoah wine region of Amador County, Showcase Ranches is surely up and coming. Indeed, it is arguably hip. Land values there have almost certainly been driven up somewhat as a consequence, which has probably priced Showcase Ranches beyond the reach of many locals.

I could be wrong, but I assume that the folks attracted to places like Showcase Ranches aren’t looking for a very rural experience -- what some might think of as authentic rurality. I suppose they like the idea of a “place in the country,” without many of the inconveniences associated with it. And, as much as they are seeking the privacy of a rural home, they probably like the idea of having a few neighbors not too far away. It makes them feel more secure. As one realtor in El Dorado County said to us, “if you buy in Showcase Ranches, you’ll have neighbors who’ll look out for the place when you’re not there. If you buy out on ______ Road, well, I can’t guarantee there won’t be a meth house by you out there.” Hmmm, so one function of rural gentrification is to fend off the meth manufacturers … Well, I’m for that, but I wonder if the realtor, in invoking the image, was playing on a rural myth? And trying to sell a property, of course.

1 comment:

PJ said...

There are a few inaccuracies in your blog - 1) there is only ONE paved road in Showcase, which is Dorado Canyon (the only through road, from Omo Ranch to Fairplay Roads), the rest are gravel. 2) most of the lots are around 10 acres, not 20. 3) the actual HOA has been defunct for many years, so few if any of the covenants and restrictions are enforced. The only role that the CSD has is to take care of the roads and the 4 ponds that are in the "subdivision."
My understanding is that the garbage service has been here for many years, my neighbors on both sides bought their properties back in the late 70s and have had Amador County's disposal services available for most, if not all, of that time.
There are a lot of newcomers (like me, I moved up here in early 2005 from the Bay Area, set up my own law practice in my extra bedroom and absolutely love it out here) but there are also quite a few residents (like my neighbors) who've been here for 10, 20, 30 years, built their own homes themselves on weekends, and raised their children here. Yes, we have garbage service but we're also all on our own wells and septic tanks, and were without power for 5 days this past January. Most of us have generators and wood-burning stoves, to get us through the occasional power outages. The US Postal Service does not deliver to our homes out here, so if you don't set up a mailbox out on Omo Ranch or Fairplay Road, you have to set up a PO Box with the Mount Aukum or Somerset Post Office to get your mail, but UPS and FedEx makes the rounds, so there is an interesting tradeoff in the way of amenties vs. 'roughing it.' It's certainly not as 'gentrified' as you seem to think. But yes, I have to admit, it is also nice to have neighbors who are always willing to help each other out (not like back in the Bay Area, where you don't even know who your neighbors are) and it's certainly pleasant not to have to worry about meth houses next door.