Ward Pumice Company
Note: while this page has nothing to do with Ward Pumice Company per se, the rural development, biz owner's homefront, lies right next to creek source of pumice. Writing needed a home is all, so I plunked it here for now. There's a serious lack of info on this boonies subdivision that's been in the news in recent times for its recent flood of unsanctioned growers, wildfire, and tragic shooting. This covers the half century before giant changes hit the place.
"The Vista" Thru Time:
Note: while this page has nothing to do with Ward Pumice Company per se, the rural development, biz owner's homefront, lies right next to creek source of pumice. Writing needed a home is all, so I plunked it here for now. There's a serious lack of info on this boonies subdivision that's been in the news in recent times for its recent flood of unsanctioned growers, wildfire, and tragic shooting. This covers the half century before giant changes hit the place.
"The Vista" Thru Time:
by Stuart Ward
(Similar version originally published in Mt. Shasta Herald September 22, 2021)
Once sleepy 50 year-old backwoods subdivision Mt. Shasta Vista underwent a radical sea change in 2015 . The following retrospective by a 43-year Vistan resident hopes to shed light on where place was coming from and thus perhaps explain where it went. It blends a crazy quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences and reflections. Ward served as a Vista board member and co-edited ephemeral official Vista website 2012-2014.
"...the past is never truly past...it is always tugging up both
its treasures and its tragedies and carrying them insistently into the future."
- Margaret Renkl
Wilderness condo, anyone?
The rustic wooden archway spanning the main entrance at Juniper Drive bore the words “Mt.Shasta Vista” in hand-scrolled, unfinished wood lettering. Surrounded by inviting trees on either side, visitors driving under it might feel they were entering some enchanted realm.
Sign and trees, both long gone, imparted a certain grace to the entrance of the rural development begun in the mid 1960s. One felt the love and attention going into its creation. The thoughtful touch showed that earliest property owners -- then only visiting summers -- held a deep and abiding affection for their new-found vacation lands secreted away in Mount Shasta foothills.
They were only vacation lands. Place never aspired to be anything more at first. Only a sort of exclusive Good Sam’s Club in the boonies; turnkey camping condo, if you will.
There was no water, no gas, no electricity, no sewage, no paved roads, no community center, no parks, no playgrounds. No nothing except lots of lots and a sprawling 66-mile network of modest cinder roads to access them all, maintenance covered by an annual membership assessment, informally called ‘road dues’.
Some fifteen miles out from both Weed and Grenada -- with its profound quietude at times it could feel more like fifty -- Mt. Shasta Vista subdivision was 1,640 parcels averaging 2-½ acres each flung out over seven square miles of mostly juniper trees and sagebrush, with a scattering of pines, spanning nearly six miles between furthest points.
The boonies development flanked national forest on many of its borders. Square-mile sections were in two clumps separated by a mile of BLM land, highway A-12 between the second, smaller clump near Pluto Caves and Sheep Rock.
As often happened in rural subdivisions, its developers, wanting to paint whimsical imagery to tickle the fancy of potential land buyers, had roads often bearing evocative names like Lost Mine Road and Connifer Drive, or whimsical ones like Frankie Lane. Or ones perhaps harking to movies, like Rosebud Lane. Many were named after saints, like St. George, Pilar, and Catherine, perhaps giving development an air of being unlikely Catholic campground.
Lost hunting ground
Place was born November 3, 1965, the brainstorm of Los Angeles area developer George Collins on land purchased from the pioneering Martin family that long laid claim to much of the area. Story went that a family member sold it without first getting permission from the rest; they were ticked. Locals grumbled too, furious that one of county's best hunting areas for over a century was suddenly closed off just so a bunch of city folk could lollygag in fancy Airstreams in their backwoods.
Parcels were touted simply as private vacation lands, places of retreat for smog-choked city dwellers who indeed would get enthused with chance to rough it summers in their very own woodlands and massive, magnificent Mt. Shasta right there, big as life.
Region had lots of tree shade, loads of solitude. Mountain’s spectacular northern, glacier-clad side did wonders helping keep one cooler psychologically in the hotter region just gazing at its chilled splendor.
Collins did make casual mention of place maybe being a nice one to retire to “bye n bye”. Practically nextdoor Lake Shastina, developing a couple years later, initially as a second home community, assured that bye n bye wouldn’t be long at all. It gave so-minded Vistan land holders strong impetus to follow suit -- with a twist: building homes to become primary retirement residences.
Priced to move
Parcels were priced to move -- writer seems to remember reading they went for $800 to $975 each. There was relatively low overhead -- no infrastructure costs beyond putting in red cinder roads (some not doubt over old logging roads), making entrance signs and modest short 4X4 road-sign posts with stenciled lettering, latter soon often camouflaged by fast-growing sagebrush.
No doubt all kinds of people bought the lots for all kinds of reasons. Parcels got snapped up fast -- many by those who might never camp on them, maybe not even see them, grabbing them as investments -- “Hey, they’re not making land any more”. They’d bet on development’s growth skyrocketing land values. (They’d only have to wait a half century.)
Every parcel was gone inside of 18 months.
The Vista was unlike other rural subdivisions in the region forming about the same time, like Lake Shastina (3,200 lots, started in1968), McCloud area’s Shasta Forest (791 lots, launched in 1966), and possibly Hornbrook region’s KRCE (2,050 lots, founded in 1967). For, again, the Vista never had any master plan for community development baked into its CC&Rs (Covenents, Conditions & Restrictions), a legal blueprint to provide avenue to grow place with some rhyme and reason.
With so many parcel holders purely absentee, it appeared that the many were speculating on hopeful actions of the few. They’d sit back and watch how things progressed. Holders would lose heart when initial development growth soon stalled and parcel values flattened, but many held on to the possible boondoggle, determined not to lose shirts. But beyond annual ‘road dues’ they were loathe to invest another cent in the place.
Raise high the roof beam, carpenters
Most lots were fairly pristine, though many had ancient stumps from lumberman Abner Weed’s harvesting area’s pines in start of last century. Some parcels felt fairly enchanted indeed, having natural charms like pleasant groves of old trees and dramatic rock outcroppings, lending a park-like wonderland atmosphere. Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, and heady sense of freedom being in wild country would inspire the select few of early repeat campers to chuck city life and come live here, more simply -- and far more cheaply -- on their own generous parcel, especially if coming from a tiny city lot, luxuriating in sweet country solitude full time.
So the shared camp land quickly outgrew its original framework as first modern-day settlers transformed place into something of an informal backwoods community.
Not easy building
Between 1970 and 1972 California passed a flurry of landmark regulations for subdivision formation. “...[A] new attitude of comprehensive planning and environmental protection emerged,” noted attorney James Longtin.
The Vista barely got in under the wire before vast regulatory changes made it impossible to spin out such bare-bones rural developments anymore. They required legal commitment to developing infrastructure and public improvements like parks, playgrounds, and community centers. It seemed the place, though grandfathered in under more lax structure, came to feel intense pressure from the county -- in turn under the gun of state with its flurry of new mandates -- whenever anyone wanted to build an approved shelter. They’d have to jump through all kinds of complicated, time-consuming and expensive hoops.
Who’d live in the middle of nowhere, anyhow?
Maybe county officials crossed their fingers, hoping it’d never be more than a few that for some strange reason wanted to actually live on their bone-dry lots out in the middle of nowhere. Each new building permit okayed would mean several long, time-consuming drives out to inspect and sign off several completion stages. They had better things to do.
Any community vision beyond usual volunteer fire department and such just didn’t seem to go with dirt-cheap lots with near-zero infrastructure. One paid dearly for extra features of more-developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, sewage, security... When you bought land cheap, expectations were low. Except of course for Vista’s starry-eyed pioneers, duly smitten by the land’s charm. Enough to invest fortunes and hopes for a future of domestic tranquility in a new shared hideaway far from the madding crowd. As a song went, they surely hoped they were “...going where the living is easy and the people are kind.”
Welcome all vs. Up the drawbridge
Many felt blessed. Swept up in the joy of service and grand pioneering adventure of it all, they were happy to share their good fortune with later arrivals like writer, offering cheerful assistance whenever they could, eager to help their fledging community grow.
Alas, not so various others; they were a tad less charitable. In time they’d want to pull up the drawbridge, keep the riff-raff out. They’d bank on code enforcement to protect the fledgling community from getting ruined by unsympatico newcomers moving into their de facto rural retirement village on the cheap, blatantly ignoring legal-residency requirements...especially less-solvent, revved-up younger folk, worlds away from ever embracing community founders' retiring, genteel ways.
They became wary indeed, duly alarmed over how many property owners started pouring in and hanging their hats. They shuddered at the thought of their once-charmed safe-haven community becoming its own madding crowd.
Home in the country
Soon after the few first modern-day settlers established themselves in the late 1960s, an early 1970s sprinkling of about thirty year-round residents dotted the development. Then more various and sundry began leapping at the chance to make Vista’s charming yet cheap boonies their home, too. It appeared the bold notion of not just visiting but actually living in nature’s solitude was catching on. “Head for the hills, brothers!” was the clarion call as more and more city-weary souls joined the Back-to-the-land Movement.
Camping visits must’ve faded almost overnight. The two living modes were like oil and water. It would’ve felt more than a bit weird setting up camp in view of someone’s home.
Without a master plan, new residents were winging it -- flying blind -- as the land experienced a wild burst of home construction. Writer guesstimates that by the mid seventies maybe sixty to eighty residences of varying degrees of ambition and code compliance had risen up among the junipers and sagebrush. The place was spontaneously evolving, everyone playing it by ear in a merry mad scramble to get established.
Middle of nowhere
The place was essentially a blank canvas...one to be painted on and painted over, and painted over yet again, by whatever the latest in an ever-changing succession of aggregate residents might want the Vista to be. Each advanced the lifestyle and ambitions that currently dominated. All efforts ostensibly fell within bounds of county and state laws and ordinances the development was legally under. But such were never easy to enforce in a place on private unpaved roads out in the middle of nowhere.
With the heady sense of freedom living in such a back-country enclave, sometimes no one else within a quarter mile or more, something of an libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit emerged. Especially among more frugal-minded baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of the first wave, felt pulled to the magic mountain like a magnet and quickly learned of Vista’s dirt-cheap wonderland parcels. Some were always for sale.
Doing own thing
Such a free-wheeling spirit might’ve been just fine had later waves of residents made an earnest effort to get on the same page and work for mutual benefit. But, alas, once the disparate crowd poured in -- different ages, headspaces, lifestyles, incomes -- basically it seemed most everyone chose to ignore the legal structure and residents' obligation to work together. They each wanted to do their own thing, maybe connect with a few kindred who would tell them "Just ignore the board; I do; everyone does; it's a toothless tiger", and just be left the hell alone.
The situation was further complicated by countless absentee owners having equal voting power on any proposals as the relatively few residents with far greater vested interests in the place. The former joined with the loner residents’ zero interest in fostering community, plus established parties already having their social scene wired, thank you, to shoot down a proposal made by Board president Eric Prescott in 1981. He hoped The Vista might build a modest multi-use community center. Even though it would’ve only involved a small extra assessment for two years to fund and would’ve surely benefited myriad over time, owner-majority chorused their favorite refrain, Not One Cent More. Many embraced the illusion that once they bought the land except for annual property taxes they were home free, and they resented like hell having to also feed the parking meter each year on road improvement lest their land get towed away by the Mt. Shasta Vista Property Owners Association.
Not that there weren't some absentee owners who treasured the wild land and held fond hopes for the place's future to become a pleasant rustic community oasis. Perhaps they thought of moving there or enjoyed frequent extended visits as retreat land, or at least leaving the parcels to their grandkids. But it seemed the majority were jaded to the idea of -- perish the thought -- actually improving the place, at least if it involved extra expense on their part.
And many actual residents got used to their not being any more community, having a negative potential for becoming an intrusive nuisance, power hungry busybodies taking exception to how they chose to live. There was something about everyone being king or queen of their own regally rustic, wild realm, their own little backwoods hideaway bought for a song. Domains tucked away along endless backroads had so few fellow settlers away from the few eventual power lines, people might’ve imagined their new digs more as pioneer homesteads of yore than any dratted modern-day subdivision parcels, subject to a slew of regulations.
The combination of circumstances fostered the happy illusion one could do whatever they wanted on their land -- private-property rights were sacrosanct, after all. They effectively blocked out the overarching reality of being under county, state and federal laws and ordinances and being legally mandated to at least nominally work together: a required board of owner volunteers monthly taking care of business was a key proviso in order to be designated a nonprofit public benefit corporation.
Such an illusion manifested easily when the overwhelming majority of often disinterested raw parcel owners were absent, having at most a phantom presence residents easily tuned out. Depending on where you lived in the Vista then, three acres might feel more like a hundred.
So a critical handful of more anarchistic-leaning residents came to ignore pretty most all the rules and regulations like they didn’t exist -- though of course they’d agreed to abide by them on signing legal title papers. Bottom line: respect for the rule of law got on ever-shakier ground soon after place's auspicious start during simpler times.
One could maybe in part blame the mountain for people not working together any more. Through its natural force field, vortex energy or whatever one felt it emanated -- it was thought to stimulate upper chakras and pull one meditatively inward.
Dead in the Water
After the honeymoon camping years and first big wave of quasi homesteading, there came a time when people actually campaigned to get voted onto the board, maybe hoping to mellow the place and create a more fairminded air, each according to their lights. But that community-active period passed and, fast-forward decades, place entered a foggy time of chronic civic indifference, punctuated by helpless, plaintive cries of “what’s happening to this place?”
We'd become like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, aimlessly adrift.
In the early 2010s, after over 30 years feeling alienated from the board, writer finally warmed up to serving on it. It was hard-pressed to fill out more than three of its five seats, three being legal minimum to conduct essential primary business of road maintenance. If not rallying as it did, the place could go into state receivership as a failed subdivision. While that never became a serious threat, it had at least unwittingly flirted with the notion through apparent intractably entrenched civic indifference among place's residents.
Writer quickly learn one had to struggle to rise above the endless sea of paperwork and depressingly dry, formal meeting procedure if ever hoping to accomplish anything positive that one might be proud of. I'd write lots of light features and serious opinion pieces in the newsletter, wanting to offset the usual eye-glazing facts and figures and legaleeze, "To avoid foreclosure..." claptrap the twice-annual printing had mostly become. I hoped to maybe generate more residential involvement and turn the endangered place around. While appreciated by some, efforts were little too late to make one bit of difference: the die appeared cast long before. Any hopes of community working together for mutual benefit seemed bound and determined to be shattered.
Born under a dark star?
Though many visitors sensed the land had special healing qualities -- some over-nighters reported having the best dreams of their lives here -- cynics always sneeringly dismissed the place as wasteland: “no water, nothing but hot desert and rattlesnakes”’; just a cheap rural bedroom community, hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks, plus a smattering of more respectable, hardworking dwellers, hoping to play out dreams of peaceful and affordable country living.
The way some came to slam the place, you'd think it was born under a dark star, some wicked witch’s cauldron boiling over with gnarly contention; any effort to resist its sorry fate was pure folly.
It seemed the once happily-shared, carefree vacation land reached a critical tipping point somewhere along the way: enough residents demanding to do their own thing (whether legal or not, who cared?); countless landholders with no interest except to cash out ("Can't lose that turkey fast enough") and -- crucially -- the county dropping code enforcement officer position during severe budget crunch in 2008, allowing any attracted to land to pursue, er, unsanctioned uses, to have a field day.
Beyond this point, beleaguered residency and indifferent absentee parcel holders, so used to place being discombolulated that they couldn't read the writing on the wall, lacked the heart and will to save its life let alone ever work to transform the development into something approaching a pleasant backwoods community.
(to be continued)
The Vista thru Time
1965-2015, Part 2
Continuing informal history and remembrances of Mount Shasta Vista development before 2015 sea change, by 43-year resident Stuart Ward. Similar version was published in California's Mt. Shasta Herald Sept. 29, 2021.
Knowing where the Vista -- as various residents called it -- came from could go a good ways to understanding where it went. Had the place’s metaphorical foundation perhaps been at first only tents and trailers set on sand; then evolving to homes built on rock; then weirdly morphing sideways to makeshift shelters built on sand?
Whatever happened, lack of easier water played a major role all along. KRCE landowner Will Jensen, reporting on a blog of his exhaustive searches for rural property with an inspiring Shasta view, said, “No matter who we talked to we were warned away from Mt. Shasta Vista...we were told repeatedly that Mt. Shasta Vista was bad for wells…”
Back to the ‘80s
By mid-1980s, Vista’s resident population grew to maybe 150-200. Scattered over the vastness of seven square miles of high-desert woodlands, it was yet still a then sprinkling. Most still felt like land barons for having over a thousand empty unspoiled parcels surrounding them.
But no matter how much pristine land one might’ve enjoyed, an ominous undercurrent could jam one’s peace of mind. With lingering residue from the imperious property-owners board of earlier times reflecting place’s ultra-contentious spirit, which seemed to have infested it like a cancer at some point, it often felt like one was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. On the subtle it could feel like one was living in crowded tenement, with an angry landlord pounding at the door.
Such was one of the tragic ironies of living in the Vista. Either you detached and became philosophical about it all or you found yourself over-identifying with Munch’s screamer.
It would drive more than a few to drink.
Missing word sank efforts
About 2012, effort was made by some resident volunteers to revise the woefully outdated CC&Rs. After much slow sledding, a glitch in the progress report, sent out to everyone, promptly sank efforts. Pamphlet cover’s title was supposed to read: “Proposed Changes to Mt. Shasta Vista Bylaws” but the first word was somehow left out, making the changes sound like a done deal. This of course prompted a barely-peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd storming the next meeting; residents who normally avoided meetings like the plague had come out of the woodwork.
They suspected the property owners board -- in times past referred to with wry contempt as “the gestapo” for reasons explained later -- was staging a coup.
Long and winding roads
While you had your own private parcel, modest annual ‘road dues’ assessments were resented by those not having their own roads better maintained. Various absentee owners added to chorus, claiming they could barely reach parcels located in more remote and unsettled regions because roads hadn’t been touched in ages. Most-neglected stretches could develop dry pools of tire-grabbing, quicksand-like silt.
It didn’t help when summertime snowmelt neighbor Whitney Creek flooded banks, once putting most of Section 28 under nine inches of water and forcing evacuation. Worst of many floods over decades until a berm was finally built, it washed away some areas so badly that the board abandoned roads and issued refunds to those who could no longer reach parcels.
Many were by and large a frugal lot anyhow: Bought land cheap, moved in cheap, wanted to keep things cheap. It seemed next to impossible to build any cohesive community with such chronic bare-bones attitudes prevailing. The situation was, again, compounded by so many indifferent absentee owners holding parcels purely as investments with seeming zero interest in ever upgrading liveability of the community-challenged place.
At some point, having no legal foundation on which to create any tighter knit community, the place simply shorted out, becoming a terminally stalled-out, broken-down development -- one spectacularly failed trainwreck of a rural subdivision.
That said, over time the place stabilized of sorts, perhaps not too unlike a quarter-risen cake that dried out and solidified, a liveable relic of an abandoned dream. Various dwellers considered it a nice place to be despite all. It was our failed subdivision, one that still had at least a passing respect for the rule of law and came to value the long-established ecology of the land. It was like wearing a comfy if disreputable-looking pair of shoes.
No such kind regard was felt among most of the aforementioned eighty percent of property holders constituting development's absentee membership.They were NOT enjoying the land. Many held onto deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and shelling out each year for upkeep of roads they never drove on lest lots be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time. The churn rate created extra income for hired management processing seas of legal paperwork, plus realtors offering beleagured lots as land steals to often gullible land-hungry for easy commission fees.
Like characters in “Waiting for Godot,” land holders stood by for values to rise enough so they could finally lose the clunkers without losing their shirts.
Beginnings re-visited: ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views
Earliest visitors to the new wonderland savored it. In spring it delighted senses with surprise subtle splashes of lavender, purple, red, and yellow wildflowers. Green lichen moss on aging and dead junipers seemed almost magical, dazzling eyes with rich, near-phosphorescent green. After rains, pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was like perfume.
Abundant wildlife included deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, plentiful birds, ever-friendly chipmunks, polecats, porcupines; yes, rattlesnakes; rare mountain lions and other wildcats; tiny kangaroo rats with their impossibly long tails, hopping about at dusk...
Vacationers returned home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to their wilderness hideaway and improvements they’d work on during rendezvous with friends new and old.
Seldom heard: a discouraging word
Early parcel owners gathered at night to enjoy campfire get-togethers. Sometimes coyotes yipping up a storm in distance no doubt time-warped the more suggestible back to days of old West, possibly prompting spontaneous choruses of “Home on the Range.” And they enjoyed daytime potlucks and barbecues under the unfailing majesty of Mt. Shasta’s northern side (staggering view that local photographer Keven Lahey later raced over to snap giant lenticular clouds flying off it on rare occasions).
Judging by writings in old Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared in euphoric waves of feelgoodness that swept the land during rarefied purple-haze days of late ‘60s to early ‘70s (along with gnarly uprisings and protests, of course).
...and the saucers flew by-y-y all night
Even if one was a hardline Nam war hawk, hostile to emerging counterculture with its free-spirited ways, spirits ran high (no doubt sometimes aided and abetted by their own mind-alterer of choice, alcohol). And group’s buzz might’ve been further heightened by something quite extraordinary: unknowingly copping contact highs from parties aboard then-frequent UFOs sighted darting about the mountain around that time. The embryonic community might've gained a grand super-charge from curious advanced beings checking out singing earth people on the mountain's sparsely settled side.
Nature lovers’ paradise
To any susceptible to the attractions of the land -- all magnified for being under mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise. One they’d work to make nicer for others to enjoy. Light-duty cinder roads were immaculately groomed by membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers planted by entrance, welcoming archway lifted up. Soon group efforts peaked in establishing a de facto community well and extending power lines.
It’s said in metaphysical thinking that the imprint of earliest inhabitants on a land establishes a subtle vibration signature it then forever resonates with, no matter what might later happen on it. If accepting this… Prehistoric indiginous people seasonally hunted game here but didn’t settle, probably over lack of water and not daring to live too close to powerful mountain. Beyond them and isolated first white settlers on the land, like Eli Barnum by Sheep Rock in the 1850s, it seems the first major imprint was made by none other than the modern-day-pioneering Vistans.
They’d bestow on land an enduring euphoric, industrious, perhaps bit topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature land would always resonate with, even if sometimes buried under the surface. (Another example: often wild, free-spirited San Francisco; reportedly in nice weather first inhabitants loved nothing better than to roll in the mud and run around naked.)
Apart from such possible influences, whenever a visitor became still and really tuned into the land, a pronounced soft, almost-otherworldly dreamland quality could be felt. In spots beyond earshot of highway, no jets droning overhead or train rumbling in distance, the land had a profoundly deep quietude. Repeat visitors and residents came to embrace it like a long-lost lover. Visitors to Pluto Caves, just beyond one Vista border, might’ve experienced something of it.
Dreamy atmosphere came with a downside. Tenuous new residents wowed by land could get so caught up in fantasy that they couldn’t ever begin to integrate being there with doing what needed to be done to ever get legally established and thus give brainstorms chance to manifest and flourish on solid ground for extended enjoyment with greater peace of mind. Over time countless one-time owners came and went, happy bubbles burst after a few months or years ignoring mundane realities, until finally shocking them awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.
A fine place, by George
Developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than others, joined vacationers during the first years. He was the first board president and informally pitched in with funds to help the place along. “...I consider myself privileged to be a neighbor to each and every one of you,” he said in early newsletter, going on to wax poetic and say how place was becoming “...our home away from home, our frontier, our Shangri-la...there should be a constant flurry of barbeque parties, coffee klatches and just informal get-togethers all through the year.”
While he might’ve only created a simple recreational subdivision, lacking infrastructure to facilitate ever evolving into any more substantial and well-knit community -- thereby, one might argue, causing over the decades (if unintentionally) headache and heartbreak for myriad residents and would-be residents -- he was at least far from being some disinterested land exploiter who just took the money and ran.
Lookin' for a sign
The Vista’s raw parcels on a per-acre basis were some ten times cheaper than nextdoor Lake Shastina’s, started a couple years later in 1968. The Vista first attracted more of an equally solvent if more rough-and-ready vacationing camper crowd than second-home buyers Lake Shastina developers initially wooed with serious infrastructure.
Road signs were critical inside the 66-mile maze that could get even longtime Vista residents hopelessly lost if venturing beyond accustomed routes. Even after ages here, one night driving about I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea where I was. Finally getting to an intersection and spotting a stenciled 4X4 wooden sign post, I climbed out to shine a flashlight on it: the lettering had completely faded away, done in by the elements. Delinquents would later steal next-generation’s more elaborate metal signage, perhaps feeling their slick citified energies clashed with place's rustic ambiance.
Home in the country
Again, many, if not most, lot holders never set foot on their lands. They'd snapped them up in pure speculation (plus maybe excitement of 'owning' a piece of California), hoping eventual improvements like central piped water and extended power would skyrocket parcel values. Over decades, property titles traded like baseball cards at recess. If each parcel on average changed hands just three times over its first 50 years (probably an under-estimate), the place had a rotating ownership of some 5,000 individuals, along with untold number of family members.
All along there was loads of phantom speculative interest in the place, but little actual desire to work to build it out into genuine community residents could take pride in.
By the end of Vista’s first fifty years in 2015 -- a milestone noted by few, if any, besides writer, much less observed -- absentee parcel holders still outnumbered residents by more than seven to one.
On my own late 1978 arrival, I picked a nice lot near national forest -- as far from power lines as I could get. I aimed to live simply, getting by eleven years on kerosene lamps and candles before finally going solar. Nearest neighbors that came and went over the long years usually lived about a third of a mile away. For much of first 37 years I’d enjoy the happy illusion of having hundreds of acres under my care.
Setting the standard
Homes of early 1970s law abiding pioneers smitten by affordable and subtly scenic high-desert forest land, built to enjoy their golden years in*, were fully legal. They had dutifully complied with County’s often-onerous health and building codes: approved foundation, electric, septic, well, plumbing, insulation, walls to withstand heavy winds and roofs to support deep snowfalls.
*The last surviving one, Bill Waterson, died in 2015, at 98.
They surely must have nurtured hopes of the place in time blossoming into a full-on backwoods community, one for which they as founding members had proudly established a comfortable living standard.
“You got a permit for that?
Health and building codes were rigorously enforced in Siskiyou County then. As said, owner-builders jumped through all kinds of hoops like circus animals and, not unreasonably, they expected others to do the same. Anyone wanting to stay longer than 30 days a year -- ostensible legal limit for roughing it on unimproved land in California -- had to earn the right as they had, by gum.
Soon enough, various compliant residents became duly shocked by people trying to move in on the cheap in their tumbledown trailers and thrown-up structures. They’d deem them illegal squatters on their own parcels and promptly alerted county authorities to give them what-for.
It was perhaps an ironic turnabout for a place that had started out as nothing more than camp lands.
(to be continued)
The Vista Through Time
1965-2015, Part 3
Continuing informal history, stories and reflections of Mount Shasta Vista subdivision's pre-2015 sea change. (The Shasta Herald, for reasons uncertain, dropped the ball in publishing parts 3 and 4; maybe not of enough mainstream interest; region's pretty conservative on the whole.)
Power to the people
In the early ‘70s, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund by donation to remedy the domain's primitive conditions. A fund enabled extending power lines to parcels whose owners had committed to building and bringing in wells. It was first come, first serve. Power company, on strength of developer Collins’s optimistic assurances he’d try to get everyone on board, reportedly made tenuous commitment to extend power to every single lot.
A quarter of membership rebelled. They refused to ante up, content to enjoy their rustic retreats without power, thank you very much. Or were speculators with buyer remorse, loathe to sink another penny in the place. So the fund dried up and the power company reversed its commitment. Besides, they’d been discouraged by frequent drill-shattering rock strata encountered requiring expensive bit replacement.
Before efforts shut down, they planted tall street lamps at every blacktop entrance. But the beacons (giving off an eerie, cold glow) kept getting shot out by locals, perhaps still fulminating over the subdivision ever getting greenlighted. Sadly, the roadlamps were finally removed.
No more than maybe 10-15% of the parcels ever got connected to the grid.
The place seemed to miss a sure bet not embracing solar electricity any more over time, what with its enviable banana-belt micro-climate and technology's plummeting set-up cost. It could be so sunshiny, on some March days one might be soaking up the rays while in Weed, a mere fifteen miles away, hunched-over snow shovelers still dreamed of spring. The first of rare solar electric systems was installed by resident Brian Green, co-founding photographer for HomePower magazine. (In contrast to the Vista, McCloud region’s Shasta Forest, even further away from grid, embraced solar full tilt.)
Writer in 1989 became one of the few other residents to go with full-on solar electricity -- in my case, sunshine or bust, no backup generator -- that even now powers computer work.
While many hit good water between 200 to 350 feet, sometimes Shasta Vista’s underground water table proved FAR deeper -- 700 feet or more in areas like writer's section. Developer Collins and others got together the ad hoc community well that all could use unti their own wells were in. He sold a water truck to the association for a dollar. Once it was switched to fire-use only, those with prohibitively deep water tables found getting wells in more problematic -- one alone, ironically having 'water' in his last name, had three costly misses -- and so formed Property Owners Without Water, or POWW, getting another water truck together.
By 1980 it came to light by County Health on wings of steeper California water-use laws that the unofficial, never-sanctioned community well was totally illegal. Department head, Dr. Bayuk, promptly capped the water-truck membership. He told us at special meeting he had discretionary power to let POWW members continue drawing from well and would do so, since many members had sold former homes and bought or built homes here on realtors’ assurance there was a community well and so one needn’t drill right away.
However inertia could reign supreme. Some, rather than ever spring for a well, became happily resigned to hauling water as the price one paid for living here cheaply, wanting to avoid spending a fortune on drilling efforts that might not even hit water, or good water, or enough water, plus the often great expense of getting connected to electricity to power often-deep well pumps.
Decades later, solution-minded residents applied for a government grant to fund a proposed central water supply system; it was declined for being too few people helped for the high cost.
Bayuk cautioned Vista board members to keep anyone from using well beyond POWW’s own 26-member group. However, efforts to limit use were sketchy to none, no one wanting to volunteer for guard duty and padlocking access being apparently unfeasable.
Fast-forward decades and things were still out of hand. Residents living on the cheap and below radar, never intending to get compliant, kept relying on the well. They assumed it was a permanent amenity. One neighbor made a daily drive for teeming menagerie of farm critters in old Cadillac with backseat removed. Some reportedly even copped showers there. (During exotic weather, some of place's more free-spirited denizens happily went nudist, so chancing a quick shower at site with only sporatic traffic going by might've seemed worth it to cool down and hydrate during bone-dry, 95-degree days.)
Vista board members finally feared being sued or fined by the State. They were also taking heat from well-owning residents, outraged over dues going to replace pump and pay power bills, thereby effectively subsidizing code noncompliance. The board came up with simple solution: get rid of it. They sold it outright, without prior discussion with fellow property owners. Done deal, end of story...except for unbridled fury of well-less residents left high and dry. And they soon got sued anyhow by one irate resident, on faintly related racketeering charges (he lost, and lawyer gained a NEW Cadillac in part payment).
“It’s all a big scam, I tell ya…”
Between earlier, fitfully enforced legal-residency codes and the end of the well, it must've seemed to the noncompliant, told to get own wells and otherwise toe the line or else, that an unfair building moratorium was effectively clamped on the place. Of course, it was all standard procedure to gain legal residency anywhere in California. But our place always felt exceptional, perhaps for having difficult water and being in remote hinterlands; it somehow seemed beyond the pale of normal rules.
So, frequent land-hungry buyers on a shoestring, lured by seeming bargain lands and not doing due diligence, would later feel scammed for being sold cheap land they soon realized they couldn’t live on legally without spending a fortune first. They’d accuse Association management and realtors of being in cahoots.
The unending cycle, as they saw it : lot was sold, realtor maybe having downplayed how problematic it was living on as-is or offering wink as if to say the rules usually went unenforced; purchaser, disillusioned if rousted, quit paying annual assessment in disgust; lot eventually got foreclosed on; Association re-listed parcel, and realtor waited for next suc...er, buyer to come along.
In later times, probably one DID know the score and just didn’t care, game to join Vista’s growing noncompliant population, emboldened over County, having scrapped its residential-code enforcement officer position for five years, giving the impression anything went in the wild, wooly backcountry.
Of course it was always Buyer Beware. But you’d think sporting realtors might’ve at least posted the sobering reminder over their doors.
People with enough resources to pay $30,000 or more to drill a well, and perhaps as much to get powerlines extended to property, had enough to buy land -- and more than any piddly 2-½ acres -- with easier water depth and unencumbered by ornery squabblings of disaffected neighbors. Why would anyone spend a fortune to buy into such a discombobulated place?
Cheap land with million-dollar views only went so far.
Plenty of room left in Hotel California
Turns out Shasta Vista’s founder families knew each other from down south or from early summer camps. Seven or so couples, flush with cash from selling L.A. area digs, as said, built full-on residences and formed their own gentile country club-ish cadre. Territorial imperative being powerful, the Vista became “their” place. They sprang to volunteer and serve on Vista’s state-mandated board of directors, whose ostensible main task (some maintained only) in monthly meetings was deciding on budgeting road maintenance, plus keep a handle on signage and address any member concerns brought to their attention.
These firstcomers undoubtedly felt keen frustration seeing the place begin to get out of hand once disparate land buyers started moving in on the cheap with their non-code buildings, tumbledown trailers, and genrerally primitive living conditions. Alarmed, the board’s appointed duties soon included blowing the whistle to County for any and all unapproved construction and overextended visits.
Deperate to try keeping their endangered well bred shangri-la from suffering intolerable decline in living standards, reporting was incesant. They demanded appropriate authorities hold scofflaws’ feet to fire for daring to try living on the cheap inside their domain of respectable homes. They’d toed the line to gain compliance with strict legal-residency regulations. so ohers had to as well. If they didn’t and got away with it, it’d amount to selective ordinance enforcement, likely grounds for a lawsuit against the county.
Thus embracing law and order for all it was worth, volunteer posses cruised endless backroads in search of any trying to call Vista home but disregarding county ordinances -- whether willfully or in ignorance. Ever-vigilant posse wouldn’t even talk to culprits. (Maybe they’d tried earlier but got huffy and were told what they could do with their procedures.) They got parcel assessment numbers from the master map index and called in formal complaints over every minutiae of noncompliance uncovered. Hence was bestowed the unkind moniker of "the gestapo" on Board by more easy-going residents, dulty outraged by their hardball, zero tolerance, scorched earth stance.
Driving around a neighboring section long ago, writer met a high-spirited fellow and his pregnant partner on their land. They’d just thrown up a little makeshift two-story crackerbox palace -- instant home; goats grazed contentedly on nearby brush. I returned with a sense of foreboding a month later. Sure enough, they were gone and their shelter had been bulldozed to the ground, as if hit by a tornado.
Sadly it was far from an isolated incident. Many would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating peaceful backwoods living were dashed to smithereens during Vista’s Intolerable Years, lasting roughly from the mid 1970s through much of the 1990s. Half-completed structures of varying ambition stood forlornly abandoned and in time picked off by furtive lumber 'recyclers'. Vista’s seemingly affordable, easy-come-easy-go lands over decades often proved instead to be more easy-come-hard-go.
Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista...now go away
Zealous Board members and supporters rang county office phones off the hook demanding the letter of its health and building codes ordinances be enforced. Large imposing signs planted at each of place's five blacktop entrances, plus at each section corner, made things clear in large lettering that fairly shouted: “Health and Building Codes Strictly Enforced”.
Woe betide the poor soul failing to heed the warning seemed the unspoken message.
Along came your writer in the late seventies, a rambling 29 year-old burned out living on the road, land-hungry, and visions of building bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. With champagne taste but a beer budget, I’d finally warm to the notion of building in these bone-dry yet unspoiled and super-affordable juniper lands instead of by the redwood creek of my dreams -- to blasted code if that’s what it took, at least as meager resources and carpentry-learning curve permitted.
To my impressionable mind, the growling entrance sign was of more than passing concern. Even if lots were incredibly cheap -- they listed at $1,750., with $250. down and $25./month and low interest -- the place did appear more than a tad unfriendly. Signage seemed to say, “Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista. No this, no that, no the other thing under penal codes such and such; violators will be hung by their toenails; in fact, we DARE you to even enter.” Or, more directly, “Welcome, now leave.”
On reading further warning, “Private Property -- Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, I felt I could be arrested any second, like I’d somehow stumbled onto some top-secret government compound and should turn around while there was still time to save myself. (As was the case with countless others, land hunger of course won out over common sense.)
Wording was, of course, meant to discourage would-be substandard dwellings and, God forbid, any “white trailer-trash” and scraggly hippie communes, from ever settling in the would-be code-compliant scene and eroding genteel atmosphere and property values. Also to dissuade any would-be wood poachers, hunters, trash dumpers, vehicle abandoners, plus any miscreants’ possible designs on plundering goods trustingly left in trailers and mobile homes on initially seasonally-visited-only lands.
Maybe they needed that loud bark after all.
Screenplay by Rod Serling
But the working philosophy of feng shui holds that the energy of an entrance sets up a vibration that the entire place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording indeed seemed to indeed ripple throughout the place. Friends visiting me decades later, as if not wanting to tempt fate, parked their vehicle near sign and walked the entire way in, over a mile.
Entering the Vista the first time was often like walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out a plot that seemed in turn scripted by Zane Grey, Rod Serling and J. Edgar Hoover.
That nice welcoming wooden arch once spanning main entrance? After writer eventually received his own 'unwelcome wagon', I thought it might just as well have warned: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.
(to be continued)
Vista through Time
1965-2015, Part 4
Conclusion of informal history, remembrances and reflections of Mount Shasta Vista subdivision before momentous sea change.
It came as no surprise that the Vista entrance signs’ less-than-welcoming energy was reflected in its monthly mandatory board meetings, which were open to all parcel owners. Though sometimes dull as dishwater, proceedings could just as often get incredibly raucous: a fistfight once broke out on the floor.
The place seemed to have gotten infected with some deadly uncurable disease at some point. The swelling tsunami waves of contentious bickering among dwellers was so mindboggling, it would’ve made rich fodder for a Hunter Thompson novel: “Fear and Loathing in Mt. Shasta Vista.”
First residents might’ve felt something like earliest gold panners during the California Gold Rush, once-idyllic scene of having digs all to themselves turning to pandemonium once fellow seekers of prized yellow stone flooded in. Early Vistans had had the ball and were running hard, clinging onto it for dear life. Imperious board members sometimes tried to avoid public discussion by mumbling “public comments?” before rushing a fast vote on controversial matters, banking on newbies’ unfamiliarity with formal procedure. Shouts of protest once realizing what was happening were countered by simpering yells from wily board supporters: “Robert's Rules! Robert's Rules!”
Long story short: firstcomers’ dream of establishing a backwoods shangri-la was turning into a nightmare. The Vista started coming apart at the seams.
As more and more people moved in, many of quite modest means indeed, county government reached a critical tipping point, beyond which it was unable and/or unwilling to effectively enforce costly legal-residency codes that everyone living in towns, perforce, dutifully (if sometimes no doubt grudgingly) toed the line on.
The time came when county authorities seemed to dismiss the sprawling, misbegotten one-time recreational land out in the middle of nowhere as a lost cause. One sometimes got the distinct impression they liked to pretend it didn't even exist.
White bread outpost?
It must have been heartbreaking seeing a place one held such high hopes for slip away...not unlike a predestined romance shorting out for one being asleep at the wheel at the critical moment. The Vista could’ve become a well-settled, "respectable" backwoods community...
...if still only a white-bread one. Although in later years absentee owners appeared a racially-diverse group judging by list of owner names, actual residents by 2014 -- numbering perhaps 300 to 350 -- were overwhelmingly white. There were few Hispanic and few to no Black, Asian, or Native Americans. Though growing up in melting pot of the Bay Area, writer didn’t find anything too amiss about this at the time -- other than wincing when a neighbor dropped the ‘n’ word. I’d learned to adapt to any ethnic mix or lack thereof, given absence of expedient intent. A more diverse Vista residency from the start might’ve assured a more culturally-rich, thriving development. But it was all moot; Wonderbread it was for half a century.
Any development had need for residents to work together on some level and follow place's own and county/state's given rules to keep energies safe and pleasant for all -- acid test being one’s children -- who committed to hanging their hats there, lest weeds of indifference, alienation, and scofflaw attitudes spring up, filling the social vacuum and choking place's liveability.
That said, it could perhaps make simple country living all but impossible if the slew of ordinances were TOO strictly enforced. Poet Kahlil Gibran noted the eternal dance: “You delight in laying down laws / Yet you delight more in breaking them.”
There appeared a fine line between having just enough rules and regulations to keep fair-minded order and having too many and courting rebellion. In any event, developer Collins would never have gotten the Vista greenlighted if not setting up CC&Rs so every buyer legally agreed on signing the title paperwork to observe county and state laws and ordinances, plus any of place's own specified restrictions.
As mentioned, the rush of having one’s own land in such a relatively remote region often seemed to obscure the reality of there being ANY county or state regulations to conform to. Heck, it looked like one could do anything they wanted.
“I say we got Trouble...with a capital ‘T’...”
In October 1978 I'd snapped up a nice lot for $250. down and set up a quick camp. It was an early fall and while days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures plummeted to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F. The next morning an elderly man driving by saw me heating coffee water over my tiny rocklined campfire, stopped and climbed out. He looked pointedly at the fire, and my first welcome to the quasi community became, “You gotta permit for that?”
I'd wait too long to apply for a building permit -- and crucially, join the POWW water-truck club in lieu of drilling a well first. As a result, I got the full "Unwelcome Wagon" treatment from sundry busybodies of a development that seemed permanently whacked around the edges for inexorably slipping away from being a shangri-la into something far less enchanting.
I'd intended all along to gear up slowly, submitting formal building plans come spring. Meanwhile I’d research tiny-home designs, construction methods, and building code, and draw up final design to submit -- as it turned out, in a not-distant 12X16 cabin that kindhearted neighbors leaving for season and taking pity on me, offered to let me, a total stranger -- winter in.
This, so I wouldn’t freeze to death camping in a tent, determined to stay on my brand-new property no matter what. Cold alone could be endured with extreme-weather bedding, but, unbeknownst to me, region was notorious for sporadic windstorms of unbelievable ferocity; they could periodically roar through the Vista like a runaway freight.
December assaults kept blowing my tent down no matter how tightly I tried to secure it. When serious snowfall combined with latest tent collapse in the middle of the night, I surrendered and gratefully moved into their offered shelter, making quarter-mile hike each day to work on place and build a storage shed that could seque into allowed onsite construction shelter once getting a building permit.
Ever-vigilant Vista board members and their minions apparently had a pipeline to local realtors for parcel sales. So unknown distant neighbors promptly learned of this rambling upstart apparently daring to try moving into their would-be proper domain on the cheap. But my realtor had sportingly refused to divulge where my parcel was.
Determined posse, after long searching over endless badckroads, finally tracked me down when I wasn’t home. They took one look at my thrown-together shed and verboten outhouse and duly reported me to the county health department. They didn’t know -- or, I suspect, care-- that I’d earnest intentions of starting the onerous legal process of building a home to code come spring.
I was duly summoned onto the carpet of head honcho Dr. Bayuk. He gave me 120 days to get compliant and install a septic system -- even though I wouldn’t have a cabin to connect to it for a long time -- or threatened to kick me off my land. “And don’t think I won’t!”, he added, jowls shaking like Nixon's. Perhaps he thought I needed a dose of fear to get properly motivated. The only reason he accommodated me at all, rather than sumarily kicking me off the land, with sheriff backup, if needed, was because at the last moment a goodhearted neighbor had come forward and told him they’d promised to let me join POWW when I was ready to build.
The whole experience, happening within months of arrival, fairly traumatized me. Before I finally got into POWW as its last member, I almost gave up, devastated, ready to once again fade into the homeless sunset. Instead, though shaken, outraged and mortified, I'd invested enough time, money, and hopes in place that I persisted. I oon passed perc test and installed the dratted approved septic system. By agreement, I built an outhouse over the top of the buried tank for use until completing cabin. For benefit of anyone who kept driving by to check out the latest almost-bust and perhaps looking for some new reportable offense, I painted on its side facing the road, in bold blue letters, “Welcome Halley's Comet in 1984.”
That should baffle them, I thought. It’d be decades before I 'd warm to the board and its potential to actually do good.
Over a leisurely three and a half year period I built a code-approved, 1½ story, solar-tempered little-big cabin, 90% by myself. I used only hand tools and recycled lumber whenever possible. I appeared on the verge of becoming a tenuously respectable resident -- not that I was any longer keen to be accepted as such; the board members had a bad habit of radicalizing the place's denizens by its chronic overreach and big-frogs-in-small-pond attitudes.
On the wings of getting cabin signed off in 1984, I was still something of a rebellous 33 year-old, seriously disenchanted with the Vista's dominant La-la-landish, over-genteel atmosphere and Barney Fife code enforcement ways.
I promptly got into far worse trouble. It turned out I'd decide to celebrate Halley’s Comet return in 1984 by hosting a teeming rainbow camp on my "one family per parcel" land.
The annual national alternative-culture’s rainbow gathering celebration was being held in California for the first time, a two hour drive away in the Warner Mountains wilderness. A flood of psyched earlycomers, some returning for first time in decades to countercultural roots, came from across the nation and even overseas. Many had nowhere to go, the public forest site not yet decided on. So, hoping to be of service and reconnect with my own roots and liberate the development a bit, I opened up my land to all comers. Hundreds of unlikely wired people in colorful garb and sometimes outlandish rigs would merrily traipse in and out of the yet-depressingly buttoned down Vista over the next half year.
Residents, most living up to five miles away, had a conniption fit. They wanted none of it -- no free-spirited long-hairs with their pot-smoking, freespirited nudity and dumbec drumming into the night. Not in their promised-land, thank you very much. One family per parcel ; that was a Vsta rule etched in stone. Claims of “Hey, we are one family” wouldn't seem to cut much ice.
They reported me to every enforcement agency they could think of. But earlier I’d initiated a meeting between then-county-sheriff Charlie Byrd and rainbow elders on the land; law enforcement wanted to know what they could expect with the 33,000 celebrants (as it turned out), soon to flood the region. The sheriff, reassured group was basically a harmless if unconventional bunch, causing only a temporary glitch in things, basically told frothing neighbors to chill, it'd soon be over.
Writer likes to think it helped break the ice of the Vista's absurdly oppressive atmosphere some, if at the risk of perhaps encouraging anarchy to rule, for better or worse, from then on out.
“Permit? We ain’t got no permit.
I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”
As said, through the ‘80s and ‘90s, county health and building ordinances were by and large strictly enforced. Unless one didn’t mind being deemed an outlaw and maybe never earning recognition or acceptance of “official” neighbors -- in time, indeed, more and more didn't seem to mind at all -- landowners tried to comply or at least provide the illusion of trying.
When the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hit, County supervisors made a tough call and axed residential-code enforcer position that was having so little effect anyhow, leastwise in the Vista. Over next half decade residential-code enforcement basically disappeared. With no official telling you different, it was easier than ever for Vista newcomers to foster the happy notion one could do anything they wanted on their land. (Far better had county bureaucracy instead taken small temporary across-the-board pay cut and kept position.)
No legal power to fine
Other subdivisions forming about same time, in order to assure the best chance of perpetuating a law-abiding residency, gave owner boards legal power to levy fines for infractions of agreed-on rules. Examples: in Lake Shastina visible clotheslines, solid fencing, and dirt bikes were all verboten; in Shasta Forest one could get fined for changing oil on their own property.
No such legal power ever existed in the Vista.
That perhaps had always been Vista’s two-edged sword. While relative lack of sometimes nit-picky and overreaching rules and regulations empowered residents to feel more like lords and ladies of the manor, as it were, such freedom could also attract those with self-interested intentions to blatently misuse lands. Example: place long ago had a massive junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by yet-pristine nature; it took Board ages to get County to condemn it and place get cleaned up.
It basically came down to giving people freedom to do what they wanted just so long as actions didn’t interfere with rights of others to do what they wanted. Liberty vs. license. The flip side of liberty was the obligation to support rules of law set up to safeguard freedom rights of the greatest number.
Could Place ever get Centered without a Center?
The Vista never built a community center. Even though it grew enough to merit one, there was never enough community support for a facility where residents and visiting members could meet, maybe form informal action groups, connect, and just hang out together.
Instead, monthly board meetings were held in a cramped, cold-fluorescent-lit backroom in the volunteer firehouse just off Vista property. And annual property owner meetings were held in Lake Shastina. (In earliest years they were held hundreds of miles south at places like members’ favorite, Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, to make it easier for dominant southern California owners to attend.) Hard for a quasi community to gain any centeredness without a center. Driving ten miles away from place to attend annual meeting for place just felt weird.
“Wouldn’t give you a dime…” vs. “Only $29,999!”
Due to place’s countless shortcomings, sale values of parcels more or less stalled out, just keeping up with inflation at best. Until 2015, unimproved lots often went begging at $5,000. Without easier water or electricity or more proactive and empowered board, it didn’t strike many as an inviting place at all to drop anchor...other than perhaps those enjoying roughing it and living cheaply in the country and didn’t sweat being noncompliant.
I met a former realtor decades ago who said of the properties, with a heated disdain then fashionable in certain circles, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them.”
Two different realtor groups specializing in scouting developments deemed woefully undervalued thought differently. They snapped up hundreds of Vista's wooded parcels lying fallow for cheap (at least relieving many long-stuck owners) and promptly mounted a slick sales campaigns to try to remedy the sorry situation.
Earlier one, with former CHiPs TV star Erik Estrada as aggressive pitchman, had a penchant for going after failed, “left-for-dead” subdivision lots, talons squeezing out any quick profit possible before swooping off to next developmental roadkill. It offered to fly prospective buyers in to enjoy a champagne brunch along with high-pitch tour of the Vista properties with their dazzling mountain views. When they optimistically held a grand open-house, balloons festooning entrance, reportedly no one even showed.
Then around 2012, Billyland realtors -- possibly taking lots off the former’s hands -- grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels and seemed to aim at reaching landhungry Internet surfers. They hawked them online, Ebay auction style, winner being the one with highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they gushed. Of course, with low monthly payments and high interest rate, final cost could run well over $50,000. Their campaign attracted many living on shoestring, some growing a few cannabis plants to help make payments and avoid losing what some legal residents viewed as private campgrounds for the homeless.
“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”
Siskiyou County supervisors obviously rued the day they ever greenlighted the development. One former Vista board president stalwart said officials came to view the Vista as the redheaded stepchild no one knew what to do with.
Meanwhile the place, having no fining power, was at the mercy of county officials and workers to keep intact any semblance of law and order in the remote back country.
But the county, huge and on an overstretched budget and chronically understaffed, had long ago burned out on the wayward development. Officials kept kicking the can down the road, avoiding dealing with it whenever possible...
...until the day of reckoning, when their out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude -- on an inevitable collision course with reality -- eventually proved an unwarranted luxury.
Hope springs eternal
Who knows all the precise reasons and sequence of events that led Mt. Shasta Vista -- begun over a half century ago with earliest visitors nourishing fondest hopes and dreams -- to find itself in the dire straits it's in now?
It’s said the cause of anything is everything. Exactly how this one-time paradise -- still relatively unspoiled in pockets -- came to be the way it is might forever remain largely a mystery obscured by a vanished past.
Be that as it may, maybe, just maybe, the Vista might yet somehow finally get it together over time...current controversies resolved, dwellers switching gears and reactivating place’s code-compliant, happy-camper DNA, gaining crucial ecological awareness and embracing appropriate, earth-friendly technology and gardening practices, critical to saving the place from further wrack and ruin -- along with the rest of the planet.
Writer’s not holding his breath, but stranger things have happened.