What’s wrong with the Ranchos?
With timbered mountains to the west, rolling desert to the east, and a flat green floor between, Carson Valley is characterized by geographical contrasts.
But do the three towns that reside within the mountainous perimeter – Genoa, Minden and Gardnerville – lend themselves to socioeconomic contrasts as well?
While visitors can find multimillion-dollar homes on the west and northeast sides of the Valley, they can also find mobile home parks in downtown Gardnerville, small-lot, single-story tract houses in Chichester, and long-faced ramblers on larger acreage in the Gardnerville Ranchos, not to mention the sprawling lots of Topaz Ranch Estates on the southern periphery of the county.
To an outsider, a diversity of housing and neighborhoods may seem like a healthy mix. Insiders, however, those who have lived in the Valley long enough to absorb its many moods and nuances, are aware of the stigmas certain neighborhoods carry, even if never publicly stated.
A recent story about an affordable housing project in Minden’s upscale Westwood neighborhood sparked a class-conscious debate on The Record-Courier’s Web site. Anonymous posters used terms such as “slum lords,” “tweakers,” “trash” and “the ‘Chos” to describe the Ranchos. Some also took shots at housing developments off Pinewood Drive on the north side of Westwood and the 900 block of Mica Drive in Indian Hills.
In trying to understand such negative perceptions, Douglas County Sgt. Jim Halsey said the most active neighborhoods for the sheriff’s office are typically the Ranchos, Johnson Lane, Indian Hills, Chichester and Sunridge.
“I believe the reason is due to the density of houses in those areas,” Halsey said.
He said higher density housing means more families comprised of middle-aged parents and teenagers.
“I’m not saying families cause problems,” he said. “I’m just saying that many of our typical ‘retiree’ neighborhoods, Genoa, East Valley, Stephanie Way, are quiet and have fewer calls for service.”
Karen Goode, manager of Douglas County Social Services, has been intertwined in Carson Valley socioeconomics for 28 years. She said stigmas in the community are unjustified.
“They absolutely exist, unfortunately,” she said. “People need to be better educated and understand that, especially right now in these economic times, it’s not a ‘us-and-them’ thing anymore.”
Goode said that through localized financial, medical and basic living assistance, her office catches those people who fall through the cracks of the state system. She said contrary to popular assumptions, her clients span every geographical area of the county, from Topaz Ranch Estates to Lake Tahoe.
“Many people who have come through our doors lately say how they never thought they’d have to come in here,” Goode said. “Perceptions change of who those people are, those who find themselves in need of assistance. Joe Smith down the street loses his job, loses his home and can’t make his mortgage payment. We’re talking about your neighbors and mine.”
Goode, who lived in the Ranchos before settling in south Carson City, said she’s watched social stigmas in the Valley change over the years.
“Thirty years ago, when I first moved here, Fish Springs was considered the ghetto, and now it’s pretty elite and has beautiful homes,” she said. “Johnson Lane was the same way. The Ranchos weren’t seen as bad; they were seen as the family area. Things change and move, I guess that’s just public perception, but in this office, we always see people from across the spectrum of the whole county.”
Goode said certain neighborhoods may have higher percentages of assistance than others, but it’s unfair and inaccurate to scapegoat an entire area, especially when the whole county is suffering economically.
“It could be me tomorrow. People are starting to realize that,” she said. “Until you’re in a person’s shoes, you don’t understand.”
Bob Spellberg, manager of the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District for more than 20 years, said the neighborhood has had a stigma for as long as he can remember.
“I do think it’s there, but not rightly so,” he said. “When they built the Ranchos, the original reason was to provide affordable homes to new families. I think they think it’s low income, and I think that stigma has stayed over the years.”
Spellberg said he’s bothered by the area’s derogatory nicknames, from “the slums” to another one he’s picked up through the grapevine, “Ranchghanistan.”
“It’s undeserved,” he said. “A lot of people never come out and look around. We have everything from starter homes up to, in better economic times, million-dollar homes. We’re a little city out here. We’re a bedroom community. We don’t have much in the way of commercial, but we have all walks of life.”
Spellberg said there are some parts of the Ranchos that could be cleaned up a bit.
“But the same thing goes for Gardnerville and Minden, for Carson and Reno,” he said.
He pointed out that the Ranchos is the largest neighborhood in the Valley, with approximately 11,000 residents.
“When you’re larger, more issues arise, just like any other city or town,” he said.
He said people also have misconceptions about what the general improvement district can actually do. He mentioned recent criticism of the district’s plans to build a 2-acre fishing pond in Mitch Drive Park.
“They thought the money would be better spent on a senior center or Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “These things are beyond our control. The Boys & Girls Club is a private nonprofit, and the senior center is the county. All we can do is offer land.
“There are things we can and cannot do. We have no control over public safety, no control over the judicial system and no control over planning and zoning. All we can do is make recommendations and hope the county goes along with them. It’s the same with Minden, Gardnerville and the rest of the Valley.”
Spellberg maintains that the quality of life in the Ranchos is as high as anywhere in the county.
“Our board works very hard to make this a nice place to live,” he said. “The quality of life here is going to get nothing but better.”
He added that it’s much easier for people “to sit in their armchairs and spout off names without looking.”
“I would like people to come out and see what we do, to see the different neighborhoods and how diverse they are,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to do that maybe they don’t know about because they haven’t taken the time to ask or look.”