The Prospect Turns Three 010412
Not much of a party…
Since most small businesses crash in the first two years, turning three for the Prospect should be a joyous occasion. But, reflecting over the news of the last three years, it hasn’t been very rosy. It’s been a period of slow decline and steadily increasing impediments for rural people.
Was a time when hard working people filled the mountains, finding gold, cutting timber, raising hay and cattle, building homes and barns. The cities needed the products of rural labor, and the rural areas had power in government. Today, the rural counties have to pull together to have any influence at all over politics in the state. See this week’s “board notes”.
The Prospect has been witness to decreasing public school enrollment, to decreasing funding, and to school administration incapable of the kind of change our reality imagines.
The pages of the Prospect over the last three years have chronicled the continued closing of the woods around us by the Forest Service, and by anti-OHV and anti-snowmobile groups. Mining has been attacked and effectively driven from the rivers by groups with no real stake in the community. The Nature Conservancy took control of Independence Lake and conducted a culture war against traditional users, restricting them from the lake but encouraging users from urban areas, and seizing historical camp grounds for TNC exclusive use. Rural septic systems are under attack from the state, partly because of lawsuits from environmentalists. Building codes have become all-encompassing and prohibitive. State mandates continue with the burden of enforcements falling to counties. Pressures of all kinds make it increasingly difficult to live in rural areas.
The prolonged hard times have weakened a community economy which was already in decline. Rural folks in California are generally in a hard way. We’ve outlived our usefulness; we’re living in someone’s playground; we’re squatters on our own land.
Your Fringe Editor associates with all kinds of unsavory characters in pursuit of news and information, and certainly among those is Dave Goicoechea. Goicoechea almost certainly knows more about rural life and the changes that are overcoming rural culture than anyone in the county (who isn’t a sociologist). He’s also a right smart feller who can read the writing on the wall, and is pragmatic enough to take it straight. He’s got his blind spots (he refuses to grow pot on his land) and idiosyncrasies (you gotta like the smell of lanolin), but while he doesn’t walk on water, he skitters right over a runny cow flop. Goicoechea, after watching the rural ag world from a desk and from the ground, isn’t very optimistic. He identifies several issues which threaten the rural ag life, but sees water as one of the biggest problems on our horizon, not only water rights threats, but water quality issues, too.
Water has always been critical in Northern California, and many a landowner here has water flowing over their property that they can’t touch. Water in California no longer follows gravity, now it follows money.
It isn’t that the water will vanish, it’s that we will be restricted from it. Between water companies, federal judges, and environmental groups, our water is spoken for by forces outside the county, forces that will change the way we build, how we make a living, and how we recreate.
Has the news been only gloomy? Obviously not, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Certainly, the possibility of getting the cogen plant spinning again is a realistic, if modest, promise. Roberti Ranch’s solar array is likewise a good example of how we in the county can produce something the outside world wants: electricity. Some local ranchers are dealing with the pressure on ag to produce cattle and hay for specific markets, increasing the value of each animal by almost literally hand raising them on sweet Sierra Valley grass. Without such a spark to encourage commerce, we’re left without much hope for Loyalton, or the county.
It is a truism of law enforcement and social work that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If that holds true for the county, we might as well through a shovel full of dirt over it right now. Maybe it won’t.
The county won’t disappear, and people will live here, but what kind of people? Will the ag land eventually be owned by agribusiness, or held “in trust” by conservation easements? Will only those so wealthy that they don’t need to make a living from the fields and forests be able to live here? Will the wild lands finally and fully be possessed by urbanites?
To some degree, it’s still up to us. Micheal Warner and Keith Logan have both presented ideas on Sierra County branding. It would require the community, including both chambers of commerce, to endorse the idea. We would have to identify products; those who are already selling upmarket beef would have little incentive to endorse the idea, but their participation would be critical. The business park associated with the cogen plant has its problems. This editor has had reports that the area is a flood plain, that there is no sewer system for the park, and that it would be prohibitively expensive to put one in. However, I’ve also had reports of successful business relationships in which small industry has benefited from power and hot water from the plant; there could be more. It would require money, and a reason for people to come here. Loyalton is far from everything, doesn’t have a well trained workforce or upscale housing, is looking at more and expensive sewer and water problems, but it’s the prettiest daughter we’ve got, so to speak. If the entire county doesn’t rally around the idea of the cogen plant and business park, we have nothing going for us at all. No, hordes of tourists aren’t going to come; no, no one is going to build a golf course or resort, since they aren’t doing well anyway. What we have is grass and trees, hay and biomass. It’s not an easy future, but it’s better than no future, and a Sierra County with no rural people.
Let’s see what better news we can all make for the Prospect to
report this year.
For a cheerier note, see our photographic review of 2011.