In Boulder City, we take pride in our quaint, small-town community. Most of us live here because we prefer to stay away from the crowds and traffic, treasure our intimate schools, and enjoy knowing and cultivating friendships with not just our neighbors but also local bank tellers, school custodians, firemen, plumbers, waitresses and virtually everyone else in town.
Boulder City’s land-sale restrictions and slow-growth ordinances are a big reason why our community has been able to remain that way for many years. But sometimes even good things can have unintended consequences, especially when we fail to fully appreciate and properly respond to changing circumstances.
Unfortunately, there’s compelling evidence that our slow-growth restrictions have transformed over time into rigid no-growth policies that are now rapidly, yet almost imperceptibly, moving us in the wrong direction, particularly in light of important changes looming on the horizon.
One of those consequences is the alarming downward trend in enrollment at our schools. Last year, both of our elementary schools were below 80 percent capacity, and our junior high and high schools barely topped 60 percent capacity. Those declining numbers, in turn, have negative implications for our children.
Dwindling enrollments mean fewer education dollars for Boulder City’s schools, fewer teachers, fewer counselors, less-competitive sports teams and smaller campuses for future generations.
For instance, because our high school’s enrollment will drop below 600 students this year, it has lost teachers again and has now been forced to downsize from two counselors to one. That translates into a student-to-counselor ratio of almost 600-to-1 rather than the much more manageable 300-to-1 we’re accustomed to. Our consistently high-performing kids deserve much better than that.
A similarly dismaying, albeit subtle, transformation is the aging of Boulder City’s population. Senior citizens now comprise well over 40 percent of our citizenry, and that number is skyrocketing quickly toward 50 percent. Don’t get me wrong; we love our senior citizens. My parents are seniors, and it won’t be long before I’ll be one, too.
But as the young family base Boulder City once had has grown up and moved away, we haven’t done a very good job of replacing it. In fact, because of fictitious pressures that slow-growth policies place on our real estate market and cheaper alternatives barely a stone’s throw away in Henderson, young families are finding it tougher than ever to locate affordable starter homes in Boulder City and far less attractive than ever to live here.
And then there’s Interstate 11. Ever since the I-11 bypass was finally funded a few years ago, Boulder City’s workforce and business owners have increasingly expressed concerns about its potential impact on our economy. In response, there’s been an accompanying increase in focus by virtually everyone — those same business owners and employees, our Chamber of Commerce, the city and its Economic Vitality Commission, third-party “expert” consultants, and other concerned citizens — on how we can better market our city to regional, national and even international tourists.
That’s all appropriate, I suppose. But what seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is the most potent and relevant consumer group of all: our residents.
If we truly believe that Boulder City is in danger of becoming the next Radiator Springs, the surest way to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy is to become increasingly dependent on outsiders to fuel our economy. The better approach is to first and foremost shore up our local customer base with some much-needed growth. And, yes, then supplement with a steady influx of tourists.
Given our stagnant population and the limited prospects of future growth, is it really all that surprising that grocery store chains aren’t exactly banging down our doors to take over the boarded-up Haggen’s property? If I were in their shoes, I’d look at Boulder City’s limited growth patterns coupled with I-11’s associated uncertainties and run away to take my chances elsewhere.
On the other hand, if there were 3,000-5,000 more mouths to feed and patronize my business, I’d sure be much more inclined to give Boulder City a closer look.
Finally, let’s not ignore the impact that virtually static growth has on our city’s tax base. Not only does a flatlining populace mean fewer overall tax dollars to fund aging infrastructure needs and the ever-increasing cost of providing services, it also means each individual’s tax burden is proportionately greater and likely destined to remain that way.
So if you’re one of those people like me who wants the city to keep searching for alternatives to rate hikes, perhaps we should start rethinking our growth policies.
I’m certainly not suggesting massive growth. But I am advocating moderate growth at a measured pace. A few thousand extra people over a dozen or so years would do wonders. Boulder City needs periodic transfusions of fresh blood.
All socially, intellectually, spiritually, culturally and economically thriving communities do. Otherwise, the unintended consequences of no growth will eventually overtake us, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.