By Ryan McCarthy
Lake Wildwood and its 6,000 residents are just 20 miles east of Marysville. Another big, gated community, Lake of the Pines, is near the border of Nevada and Placer counties. Granite Bay in south Placer includes Los Lagos and Wexford among developments with a guard at the gate.
Yuba and Sutter counties?
No guards, just two developments in Yuba City — Woodbridge Court off Lincoln Road and Cobblestone Court off Blevin Road — with gates residents access by entering codes and in Yuba County not even that.
But residents in the Renaissance development at Bogue Road and Railroad Avenue in southeast Yuba City recently asked city officials about converting their neighborhood of about 30 homes to a gated community. The City Council said it supports the change if 100 percent of residents want gates.
Apparently residents in favor of making the move couldn't get the unanimous support.
Good for the two counties here, says a professor who has written a book about such developments. Edward Blakely, author of "Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States" and a former dean of urban planning at the University of Southern California and a department chairman at the University of California at Berkeley, said the developments signal a certain character. "You don't find many of them that are in communities that are small and friendly," Blakely said.
Moreover, they are not the future, he said.
"Gated communities are probably passé," Blakely said. "The demographics are really against them."
Older residents can't afford them and younger families don't want to live behind barriers, he said.
Blakely, who in 1971-72 studied Marysville and Yuba City for a report about what residents thought about local government, said the security that attracts residents to gated communities is an illusion.
Driving a new car and being well-dressed, he never had any problem entering such developments, said Blakely, noting asking to look at a model home was one way of access.
"There was no gated community I didn't get into," he said.
Not everyone sees gated communities as Blakely does.
Renaissance resident Lucas Helm, 19, said he can live with the restricted access — which would extend to people providing services and delivering goods to the neighborhood — if gates go in. Helm has had his car broken into several times and said the security that gates would bring makes sense.
"The benefits would override the complications," he said. "You might be a little more protected."
Renaissance could be next
Laurence Sager, who lives in the Renaissance development and attended the City Council meeting Feb. 19 when the request for gates underwent review, said he understand the interest in gates.
"When I first moved in here nine years ago, I thought this should be a gated community," Sager said of the subdivision at Railroad Avenue and Bogue Road.
But the math on $10-an-hour-guards totals $87,600 a year for an around-the-clock presence at a gate, he said. And an access code alone isn't much security since repair services, friends of residents and others will know the code number, Sager said.
Homes in gated communities can command 7 percent to 10 percent higher sale prices, he added, but the costs to residents for such work as street maintenance may offset that.
Mayor John Buckland and his wife, Tricia, were walking their dogs on Friday along a sidewalk in the subdivision that is near their home. The mayor said if 100 percent of residents want a gate, they should get one.
But he noted issues that include limited space at an entrance to Renaissance. Costs to convert to a gated community could be substantial because traffic can't backup along the street outside the subdivision, he said.
Tricia Buckland said that at Lake Wildwood in Nevada County, private security can ticket drivers for exceeding the 25 mph speed limit. That enforcement is welcomed by many who see the gated community as safer for children and pedestrians, she said, but the tickets surprise some.
Author Edward Blakely believes residents of gated communities benefit from a sense of security — but not the reality. Anyone taller than 5 feet-11 can scale the walls that surround such developments, he said. Security guards don't provide the protection some people presume they do.
"Very few gated communities have crime rates any different than their surrounding communities," he said.
If guards find someone who has entered the development but doesn't live there, they can ask for identification but the person isn't required to show it, Blakely said.
"They can't escort you out," he added. "They don't have police powers."
Many residents enjoy living behind gates in part because they attract people with the same income levels and politics, Blakely said.
Yuba City resident Jeremy Zagackowski, 28, was walking through the Renaissance subdivision to his nearby residence and said he can understand people living there wanting the privacy gates could bring.
But, converting to a closed community would change things for him, he said.
"It kind of sucks," said Zagackowski. "You've got to take the long way around."
Fewer crimes in Lake Wildwood
Edward Simpkins calls developments like Lake Wildwood east of Marysville in Nevada County "bundled communities" that include a golf course and lake.
The chief executive officer of the Lake Wildwood Association said the 2,300-acre development opened in 1968 and that the roots for such developments reach back to Hilton Head, SC, in the late 1950s.
Fewer and less severe crimes occur at the gated community in Penn Valley 20 miles east of Marysville, Simpkins said. Lake Wildwood monitors Nevada County Sheriff's Department crime reports, the CEO said. Security ranks first among reasons residents cite for living in the development, Simpkins said.
"People are looking for that," he said.
Fines — that vary depending on the speed a driver reached — do follow violations of the 25 mph speed limit at the gated community, he said.
The development with its artificial lake is one of the last the state of California allowed. Builders of such a project today would face a longshot to include a lake.
"That would be the biggest challenge," Simpkins said.
Edward Blakely, author of "Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States," agrees that the days when a development could dam water are over.
"You're not going to get a lake," he said.
This article was originally published at Appeal Democrat