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The Angry Economist

Ventura Dreaming: The Real Economic Future Of The Gold Coast
Posted by William P. McGowan, Ph. D. on Feb 19, 2006 - 6:02:00 PM

VENTURA— At the end of January, the Mayor of Ventura laid out his vision for the central coast's future, at least as it affects his section.  Because he makes his living in the planning business in addition to his part-time gig as Mayor, Morehouse is no doubt sincere in what he said. But he's so misguided that it makes one wonder.

The real problem with the Mayor Morehouse's vision is that he and much of the council continue on their Quixotic quest for that Holy Grail of urban planning, "affordable housing." We've all heard about "smart" development, and we've all heard how it enriches communities. 

The only problem with these approaches to civic governance is that they are planning-theories premised on running a community in the middle of nowhere, not on California's Gold Coast.  The essential problem for any attempt at creating "affordability" along the California Coast is a day late and much more than a dollar short. Housing prices are stratospheric here because of the location, and any attempt at keeping them "affordable" is just a fool's errand. 

Like it or not, the cities of California's Gold Coast are transforming themselves into the land of the urban elder Baby Boomer.  These Boomers always wanted a house by the beach, and now, with the kids married and out of college, they're spending their money here.  Normally, you'd think the City would welcome this kind of homebuyer, but along the Central Coast, these are "the wrong kind" of residents.

Fifteen miles up the coast, in Montecito, which has pretty much the same weather and social geography of Ventura, no one in City government seems to feel the same urgency about providing "affordability" to its residents.  Has anyone in Ventura's city hall ever wondered why?

The reason is that the folks in Montecito understand what they have, and they're not even a Mission City! People can work there, but nowhere is there a clause in the Constitution that guarantees one a right to purchase a home there, or Aspen— or Santa Fe, or the Hamptons. And like it or not, the cities of the Gold Coast have become another one of those places.  It is not a policy that someone decided upon years ago; it is an economic fact of life. 

In Ventura County, public officials are still pretty clueless when it comes to the degree of economic transformation that the real estate boom has created.  Thus, they develop plans that address existing constituencies without considering the change that is already underway and pretty much unstoppable. 

They believe that they operate in some sort of an economic bubble, and that by forcing "affordability" into one region, they will have done something positive. This approach to spending public resources is like trying to bail the ocean with a teaspoon; symbolic but not very effective. 

Again, the reason why affordable housing is a losing battle here on the Gold Coast again has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with economics. As Dr. Bill Watkins of the UCSB Economic Forecast puts it, "the Gold Coast is no longer a regional or even a statewide destination for home buyers; it is a global real estate market." People who make it someplace else, want to buy a home here.  And there's no rule to keep them from coming.


You can reach William P. McGowan at



Cliffside Malibu




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