and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August #3

'Wild West' looking more like crowded East Coast
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and jesus, people bought 'em
And they called it paradise
The place to be... "

- The Eagles, "The Last Resort"

When you live in Massachusetts, you need an escape plan. For many it is New Hampshire, Florida, the Carolinas, Arizona or Maine.

My dream has been northern Nevada. Not just because my grand-twins live there, but because I fell in love with it when my son moved there in 1991: The Sierra Nevada rising behind his house, the Pinenut Mountains across the valley, the river and wide-open spaces in between. Lake Tahoe to the west, "the loneliest road in America" to the east. Ranches with cattle, wild horses, llamas, deer without ticks, mountain blue jays, and dinosaur bones.

The ads ask, "Why Nevada?" and answer their own question: "No state income tax, low property taxes, no inheritance tax, no franchise tax."

I myself have no interest in the slot machines or, for that matter, Las Vegas, not to mention legalized prostitution. But I like the fact that other people's vices pay much of the government's bill. Also like having the Legislature in session every other year instead of annoying the populace all the time.

When the Nevada state government raises taxes "temporarily" during an economic downturn, which usually affects gambling revenues, the government cuts taxes as soon as the crisis is over. Wow, in the Wild West, a man's word is his bond, just like in the Zane Grey novels I read as a kid.

But now I'm not so sure about moving there. For one thing, why exchange Ted Kennedy for Harry Reid? The woman running for the other Senate seat in Nevada is also putting a property-tax limit on the ballot; my retirement would become a busman's holiday!

Also, there were wildfires across Nevada when I was there in June. We could watch two of them from the front yard, and the air was filled with smoke. Volunteer firefighters risked their lives, while World War II bombers dropped animal blood from slaughterhouses on the flames. I think I prefer nor'easters.

I didn't go out last year because my family came here instead. The changes, after my hiatus, were startling.

There were always new housing developments, including two sadly named Wildhorse and Wildflower Ridge, after the wonderful fauna and flora that once lived free there. But the wide-open spaces are filling up with these developments, many with walls that are high enough to block the mountain views. And new tax legislation sharply reduces the property tax for golf courses around which the new McMansions cluster. Italianate seems to be the latest trend in architecture, replacing the low-slung ranch houses.

The highway to Reno goes through downtown Carson City, past the often-quiet Statehouse. You can park and visit the State Museum with its gun collection and reconstructed dinosaur. But a new highway bypasses the city. Someone has sculpted "mountains" on the barrier walls that block the view.

Long-time residents write letters to the editor, complaining that the natives can no longer afford to buy there. Seems there's an immigration problem: No, not Mexicans, but Californians and people from back East who sell their houses in a hot market, then drive up the prices in Nevada, which compare to the prices in Marblehead. So "more" homes doesn't necessarily mean more "affordable" homes.

One big new house on a mountain slope is so ugly that one notes, with optimism, that it is sitting on an earthquake fault. One hopes, of course, that no one is home when the land shifts: bad taste isn't a capital crime.

But you wonder, as you wonder sometimes here, why people squeeze so much house onto tiny lots. Then you imagine good reasons: They are planning big families, making space for the in-laws, creating home offices so they don't have to commute to Boston. Some like to entertain indoors, or have art and antique collections to display.

Someone recently shared an interesting and amusing theory: The only way some baby boomers can stand their spouses and kids is if they have separate living spaces in the same building! I myself can no longer imagine living in a house with even one other person, and only one bath and television. Are we spoiled or what?

Another problem with my escape plan is that if I move, my own little cottage in Marblehead with its front porch will be torn down, and a McMansion built over it and my wildflower garden. The coreopsis, daisies, columbine, yarrow and echinaceas will never again enjoy the sunlight. Like the Little Prince with his rose, I feel responsible somehow for what is mine.

I'm aware, of course, that the land on which my house sits was once the edge of an Indian village. My entire yard would be a meadow if I stopped mowing it.

I don't really mind being crowded and tamed here. But somehow it seems that the West should still be wild.

"They call it paradise
I don't know why.
You call someplace paradise,
Kiss it good-bye."

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.