Among the spookier aspects of the housing downturn are the unforeseen consequences in the most unlikely places. Who, for instance, could have suspected that the steady decline in home values here would lead to panic on the Tokyo stock exchange? Or the financial meltdown of Iceland?
It seems the crisis has produced yet another wholly unexpected casualty, this one a lot closer to home: Chula Vista's choice for its next fire chief.
Two weeks ago, city officials announced their selection of Stephen Jeff Piechura to fill the position vacated when Douglas Perry retired nine months ago.
By all accounts, Piechura was a solid pick: A 27-year veteran and head of the Tucson Northwest Fire/Rescue District, he was named the 2005 Fire Chief of the Year by the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association. The move also seemed an upwardly mobile one for Piechura: As chief of the Chula Vista Fire Department, he would earn $161,000 annually in one of the most high-profile public-safety positions in the county.
Piechura accepted the job on Oct. 8. On Oct. 9, he notified Chula Vista officials via e-mail of a change of heart. “It is with great regret that I respectfully decline the offer to become the next fire chief for the City of Chula Vista,” he wrote.
Piechura went on to state that “taking the position in these times would not be of benefit” to his family. City officials went on to give the job to David Hanneman, deputy fire chief in Boise, Idaho.
What could possibly have prompted Piechura to turn tail and run from beautiful Chula Vista so quickly? In an interview with CityBeat, he gave the answer: It was one good look at the realities of today's real-estate market.
“There were two factors: plummeting house values, both in the Tucson area and in San Diego, and the ability to get a mortgage,” he says. “We have a nice house with acreage here and wouldn't be able to sell that for at least two years in order for it to be a benefit. On the other side is acquiring a home [in San Diego County]. Lending requirements have obviously changed, so we'd be required to put a larger amount down and cover financing for an unknown devaluation factor. Trying to get a second mortgage would almost be impossible.”
The upshot: Despite the shiny new title and $161,000, Piechura and his family are staying put.
Chula Vista just got a big taste of a new reality employment analysts have been predicting for some time:
Uncertainty in the housing market has sharply reduced the willingness of job seekers to pick up stakes and relocate.
According to a 2007 survey by Worldwide ERC, a nonprofit that analyzes job-relocation trends, 71 percent of companies surveyed cited depressed home values as the top reason prospective employees gave for refusing to relocate for a job. That number represents a 65-percent increase from the year before.
Piechura, we hardly knew ye.