Last edition’s editorial on the slow but certain death of Sierra County brought some comments including the assertion that the article only predicted the demise, but offered no solutions. That isn’t really true, it offered what I see as its only chance: do something crazy. Do something that, normally, you wouldn’t think of doing, but in dire circumstance, you will.
Look at it this way, the state doesn’t do to counties what it does to citizens, it doesn’t bait them into crime or allow them to get deep into trouble before stopping them. The counties are organs of the state, its root hairs that bring it water and food and capital, literally. It will exploit, but typically not punish, unless of course the ho tries to short the state some cash. Typically, if the county heads into major trouble there will be letters from the state. Those letters will contain threats which outline what the state might do in a worst case scenario.
The county has a good county council. Mr. Curtis is skittish as a cat, and careful as a spider. He is well versed in the arcane and tautological world of law. I propose we sit him in the middle of the Board chambers on a tall stool with a lap top. Then, supervisors, staff and the public make wild suggestions for our desperate struggle for survival. Some Mr. Curtis will soundly rule out at once. Some will cause him to consult the occult letters of the law. The ones that cause him to scratch his head and describe in an animated fashion opposing approaches and unlikely worst case scenarios, those we try.
The Prospect has already made suggestions based on the realities of the world in the 21st Century.
First and foremost is biomass. We’re like a man sitting in a field of golden wheat dying for want of bread; worse, actually, because in this instance the wheat will eventually kill us if we don’t harvest it. As the oil supply shrinks and the oil companies take more profits the value of hazard fuels as biomass fuels increases. The county is blessed with contractors who have experience with hazard fuel, and have tried to commit to a biomass industry. They’ve largely been rewarded with low market values and high fuel costs. Currently, there is biomass being masticated that might go to cogen, and fuel being brought across the county to Quincy. The local Fire Safe and Watershed Council trucks chips past the Loyalton cogen plant to Honey Lake.
The Loyalton SPI cogen plant is central to our seedling effort. There is a rumor that it will soon be on line, but this is coupled with reports of chips leaving the plant for Quincy. The plant itself is antiquated but functional thanks to skilled and talented local people, but SPI is not primarily an electrical producer and it seems the company lacks the expertise to make money with the plant.
There are other markets for our hazard fuel, if we can package it efficiently, but our county’s ultimate goal should not be as producer of crunched brush, but as producer of electricity and motor fuel. We don’t just want jobs harvesting biomass, we want jobs turning it to modern energy. In the past, when there was a lumber mill in Loyalton, we thought in terms of “value added” products, meaning turning lumber in to chairs, and selling the chairs. Energy is the “value added” product of biomass; why should we give that revenue and those jobs to someone else?
Biomass is the county’s most likely long-term economic resource.
What do we need to do that’s crazy?
First, we need to get some solid answers from SPI. If those answers have been forthcoming, we’ve missed them, maybe they were printed in the Booster.
If SPI won’t give us useful data we can plan our industry around, we need to go public, I mean the “outside” public, not local public. We need to show our reality: we’re a small county desperately trying to survive, willing to invest our hours and the sweat of our back to make the industry work, and the corporation which controls that effort isn’t forthcoming.
The next most obvious income source and the one poor people have been turning to since the 1930s when it was prohibited, is cannabis. It’s quick to get off the ground, easy, there is a ready market. However, it’s not going to last very long and we’ve already lost a couple of years.
The county should establish a medical cannabis production system which controls the production and distribution through reasonable zoning and permit ordinances. There are two obstacles, one small, and one great.
The small one is the great beast of the federal government, and those public officials in some counties who intend to rule rather than govern. The feds are just about powerless to actually harm the states in this matter. Even though only about 15 of the 50 states have medical marijuana , the majority have greatly decriminalized and even discussed legalizing cannabis. Our legislators are like a great flywheel that takes a long time to change direction. With the states growing increasingly pro-cannabis, the feds will slowly wheel around. Further, this is a state’s rights issue, and the states would increasingly like to control their own economic sources, making medical cannabis in particular a significant political issue. It is unlikely the feds will do more than bust a few egregious operations.
The second part of the small problem is local bureaucrats, like the DA going after the officials of Isletown. In our county, the DA is not a misanthrope with political aspirations, so likely the problem will not arise here. The new attorney general who was soft on cannabis prior to the election is now soft on being soft on cannabis, but will likely still not throttle a local attempt to regulate and encourage medical cannabis production.
The great obstacle is the smallness of the vision of so many local people. First, it’s pleasant to be against someone else, it makes us feel closer to the herd. Decent people can’t be decent unless there’s something profane about to compare to. Second, cops, lawyers and bureaucrats have made good money off cannabis prohibition, the government has spent millions convincing us that only users lose drugs, or something. Most people don’t question much, and especially not the government. It’s possible that Sierra County just has too many centuries between itself and number 21. By the time all the squawking is done, our moment will have passed.
But cannabis is not a long term economic source, unless legalization allows us to grow hemp in the Sierra Valley for fiber, food and fuel.
Those suggestions the Prospect has already developed in other editorials.
Tourism doesn’t flourish in a bad economic climate with gas prices chasing five bucks a gallon. This isn’t to say we should ignore tourism, it’s still very important to the West side of the county, but it is not likely to dramatically increase. We won’t be getting any great new lakes, or any cool new hot springs. I suppose it’s possible we could turn the Old Loyalton Hotel into a “massage parlor” but not a lot of local moms and daughters want to do that work. We could create an enormous “labyrinth”. These structures, sometimes created from hedges or stones, are a kind of “maze” which a person walks in medication and contemplation. Typically, such structures are located in pleasant, somewhat isolated locations. Some are fairly simple, but others accompany lodges or retreats. There are always problems with any development in the natural world, thanks to the Muirsh folk, but this idea doesn’t call for much more than moving rocks around and cutting some brush, and since it doesn’t burn fuel like a snowmobile or a dredge or a fishing boat, perhaps there wouldn’t be much objection. Unless there are investors willing to create a retreat to go with it, though, it isn’t likely to bring in the kind of money the county needs.
What new suggestions are there? I have none.
But I am just one person, the unimaginative editor of a country on-line newspaper. No doubt there are many other ideas out there from making the county the scrap book center of California to setting up a dog grooming college. Most will seem likely only to their originators, but some might contain merit. All of them will require us to act as a community, pull together, and invest in each other. If we don’t do that, if we simply wait for some magic grandma to build a factory for us all to work in, we’re doomed. As has so often been the case for tribes and clans and communities, we either row together, or go down the falls.
The Prospect has several hundred in-county readers and as many outside the county who care about our little community. Certainly there are good ideas out there. We’re glad to act as a repository for the crazy brilliant ideas that the county needs.
Send your idea by email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Describe your idea, why it might work, and whether you want us to use your name or not.
One unimaginative person provided three ideas; let’s see how many ideas a community that wants to survive can generate.