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Poster Child for Peak Oil

Posted Sep 13 2008 11:53pm
In the heyday of the housing boom, Yuba-Sutter home ads said with unwavering boldness, "it's an easy commute to downtown Sacramento!" A 40 mile commute from Yuba and Sutter County south to Sacramento, a job center in northern California, the state capitol of California, plenty of government jobs and a healthy private sector, even today. Yuba and Sutter County before the housing boom didn't offer much, a high unemployment rate (very little jobs), largely and agricultual span, and really isolated from any urban core. But it did offer one thing, plenty of land, the lure during the "boom" - big houses, big lots for a lower price than in the immediate Sacramento area ($100,000 less for a similar home in Sacramento County and $170,000 less for a similar home in Placer County during the boom). The factor that made the real estate agents and developers sell to unwitting buyers easily circa 2002 to 2005, was relatively cheap gas (aka cheap and plentiful oil).

The "big assumption" that came crashing to the ground as fast as housing prices. Oil would always be cheap and plentiful, right? 40 mile commutes each way, no problem, right? Wrong.

Reality has now set in Yuba and Sutter County - cheap commutes are gone thanks to $4 plus gas, home values have plummeted and lots of large homes sit vacant, weeds taking their place as nature reclaims the land, sidewalks and streets to nowhere.

According to the California Building Industry Association, building permits in Yuba-Sutter County dropped 88 percent in one year. Home values went with it, 21.5 percent in 2007, and falling. With little jobs in the area and and an increasingly expensive commute, this area is soon to become a poster child for peak oil, a ghost town destined to stay a sleeping ag town, dreams of a bustling surburbia gone. Jim Wasserman of the Sacramento Bee, who wrote about Yuba-Sutter's predicament, even looked to James Kuntsler, author of the 2005 book the " Long Emergency," an insightful book that discusses at length a world faced with oil production peaking and the dramatic impact it would have on modern suburbia, a dominant development model and lifestyle for many Amricans for over 50 years. Kustsler describing Yuba-Sutter's predicament in the context of expensive oil said, "They're going down, and they aren't coming back." Adding, "The bottom line is the suburban project is over for America. We're done." With the suburban lifestyle predicated on cheap oil, many signs we see today point to his 2005 predictions as an emerging reality.

For Yuba-Sutter it is conceivably done, a once in a lifetime chance to grow and defy historic circumstance only to be blindsided by expensive oil. The suburban project for Yuba-Sutter came with a boom only to sputter and fall as gas reached new heights never seen before. Peak oil is here, we can deny it or we can face it head-on, put our best effort forward to deal with it as a crisis and look for new ways to live and flourish in a way that is sustainable and realistic.

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