Here’s our shot to slow growth

A momentous announcement made news the other day, and no one thought to throw a party.

Nevada’s population growth, it said, slowed in 2007 from 4.1 percent per year to 3.6 percent. This is a small victory, but in desperate times, you find solace where you can.

Doesn’t celebrating a decline like this fly in the face of the conventional thinking that every strip mall, smog alert and traffic jam is evidence of a booming economy?

Yes, and thanks for noticing. I’ve been beating this drum for a long time, mostly in the company of a small band of like-minded people. We’re still a minority, thinking past the next quarter’s profits or the next election. But we’re growing, and we may have reached a critical point: It may no longer be possible for government to ignore us completely.

By “we,” I don’t mean we’re a unit. We’re no more organized than a plate of fettuccini: All of us are in more or less the same place, but at different levels and pointing in different directions. We’re not about to twist ourselves into a rope and topple any monuments.

Maybe, though, we can trip the greedy bastards up once in awhile.

Growth in the Truckee Meadows has become one of those topics about which sense cannot be spoken. With abortion, gun control and evolution, it’s transcended reason and entered the realm of emotion.

When government rejects even common-sense concepts like not outgrowing our water supply or not creating 60-mile commutes in a time of rocketing gas prices, though, you know the greedheads have a hand on the controls.

That’s nothing new. What’s new is that the opposition, once so loosely wound it could be portrayed as a fringe of anti-everything hippies, has organized. In the process, I think it’s found more support than it anticipated.

The crystal around which this has coalesced is the Spring Mountain project, which would build 12,000 new homes a half-hour north of Reno, near Pyramid Lake. Developers want Reno to annex the property, a move the law now forbids because it’s not contiguous to the city.

I hear rumors around City Hall that the deal is as good as done, that Reno will reach out and embrace the “new town.” Critics say that besides the obvious problems of traffic, water shortages, loss of habitat and pollution, this would encourage development of the entire corridor, giving us Instant San Jose.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada is chief among the groups opposing the idea. After PLAN failed to convince the Washoe County Commission to allow a public vote on annexation, it’s circulating an initiative petition that would force the issue onto the ballot. A companion measure, also the subject of a petition drive, would require that growth not exceed available water.

Even a dozen years ago, I think these things would have had no shot. For every believer in planning to maintain quality of life, there were half a dozen willing to accept what Edward Abbey called “the philosophy of the cancer cell": grow or die.

Things might be different now, and ironically, we may have growth to thank. Many newcomers have chosen Reno specifically because it wasn’t California. The perceptive among them can see the things happening here that, in a few decades, changed their home state from one of the best places in the world to one that would be a warning to the nation if we had the sense to see it.

The petitions are available to sign at the Patagonia Outlet in Reno, 8550 White Fir St., and at PLAN headquarters, 821 Riverside Drive. Read them, and PLAN’s explanation, at