State's energy woes may be growing, but so are the homes : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Diana Griego Erwin: State's energy woes may be growing, but so are the homes

(Published April 19, 2001)

Some of the earliest posters ever bearing the sweet word, "California," were produced to entice the masses to come to the manufactured land of plenty.

Some came for gold and, later, for golden sun and sand. They came to start new lives and escape old ones. They came for fame and fortune. They came because they heard jobs, food and opportunity were plentiful.

California was as much a state of mind as it was a state in the union, and all kinds were welcome, to one degree or another, to seek their dreams here. Now, however, with the state facing a possible energy crisis of epic proportions, many Californians' gut reaction is one of self-preservation. People are nervous. It doesn't take much to get them thinking it might be time to close the door behind them.

A long, parched summer looms -- the rippled heat soon to rise like a steamy mirage off the burning asphalt. Paradise is full, and there isn't enough power to keep it from feeling a lot like Hades.

Yet on the outskirts of many metropolitan areas, the framers keep framing and the roofers keep roofing. New communities are taking shape from Roseville to San Diego. North of downtown Sacramento, 3,900 new homes in the next two years are sprouting up on former farmland at Natomas Park, a master-planned community near Arco Arena. The largest home is a 4,262-square-foot plan at Somerset by Renaissance Homes decorated with all the bells and whistles.

The models speak of a family life where children have separate bedrooms, bonus rooms and homework spaces loaded with electronics; where a fountain burbles in the courtyard and every family room includes a sprawling, energy-sucking media center.

"These are dream houses," said the Bay Area's Vivian Saenz as she and her husband, Rudy, toured the nearly 40 model homes Natomas Park offers. Her favorite at that point was the 3,124-square-foot Barcelona, a 1,254-square-foot leap up from her current residence.

It was the elegant kitchen and the swirling wrought-iron accents on the curving staircase that got her. She smiled at her husband. "We weren't really thinking of what the electrical bill would run, now were we?" "I guess we just figure someone else will figure out this energy mess," Rudy Saenz said. "Isn't that what Californians do? Believe?"

Optimism. The natural sunshine.

One look at their hopeful faces reveals that the question is much more complicated than people, jobs, blackouts and hot tubs vs. a limited supply of power. According to the California Building Industry Association, homebuilders constructed 147,586 new units in the state last year, 59 percent of the number needed to keep pace with job and population increases.The association blames at least part of the high cost of homes in some communities on housing shortages.

As for the energy crisis, builders argue that new homes are more energy-efficient than ever and standards are becoming even more rigorous. This January, the California Building Standards Commission adopted updated requirements that new homes consume 12 to 15 percent less energy than current state standards, reducing the need for air conditioning and heating.

As for size, well, the industry builds these behemoths because the demand is out there. Look, for instance, on the street outside the models for Centex Homes' Sun River series in Natomas Park, where several cars have been lined up for days to reserve spots for a new phase opening Saturday.

"FIRST IN LINE FOR LOT 276," a note on the first windshield says. Build it, and they will wait in line. Buy. Plug in four televisions. Put in a pool. Send the utility bill, and they will moan. California, 2001.

The Bee's Diana Griego Erwin can be reached at (916) 321-1057 or

-- Swissrose (, April 19, 2001

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