On paper, the city of Lakeport should have a picturesque quality that makes its citizens proud and neighboring towns envious. In reality, Lakeport is a textbook example of how terribly wrong the design of a town can become when the people running it are lacking both the art and common sense chromosomes. Lack of planning skills is also a monetary issue, as the unfocused arrangement of the downtown sector is such that downtown main street looks like a ghost town after dark, since other than a couple of dive bars the main drag is devoid of nightlife venues.
But Lakeport’s image problems begin further upstream, at its two main entryways, Eleventh Street and Lakeport Boulevard. At the Lakeport Boulevard entrance visitors are given the choice of exiting the highway by driving past either a construction equipment storage yard/dump, or past the illegal and garish ever-present outdoor advertising of the McDonald’s and Tower mart. Once past those eyesores, motorists are guided down towards the lake past the mostly abandoned and burned-out city-owned Vista Point shopping center. The right side of the road has no sidewalk, and features an unlandscaped rock-strewn hillside. The left side of the road is only slightly better, as it at least has a narrow asphalt pathway carved into the roadside pile of rocky soil, which is so inhospitable it can barely grow weeds. Once past this inauspicious beginning things improve a bit, as at least real sidewalks and isolated bits of landscaping appear along the shopping center and strip-mall lined boulevard.
The Eleventh Street entrance begins almost as poorly, with no sidewalks along the narrow roadway, which is framed by weed-strewn lots and features a residence that seems to be in a continuous state of semi-planned construction flux and turmoil. After hitting the Willow Tree shopping center the sidewalks disappear again, making pedestrian traffic vulnerable to the 5,000 cars that traverse that stretch of roadway every day.
Now we come to Main Street, the heart of the disaster. What isn’t wrong with Main Street? Starting at the ground level, we have the road itself, a mile and a half long collection of asphalt patches arraigned in the shape of a street. Why can’t the center of commerce and government in Lake County properly maintain the surface of just one street in its 6.1-mile system of roadways? Two reasons, the first being that the city is incredibly cheap, and has never dealt with the fact that the water pipes underneath its streets are in need of complete replacement. This creates the need to trench and patch the roadway every time one of the crumbling water mains breaks — which is fairly often. Then there are the endless other trenching operations for PG&E, phone lines and cable TV, and the wires for the new streetlights. So even though the road has been repaved not too many years ago, the lack of planning and the city’s acceptance of the utility’s substandard patching has reduced Main Street’s surface to that of a paved moto-cross track.
Next we have the streetlights, the new faux antique ones that currently line two blocks of Main Street. Besides the outright deception regarding who paid for them (everyone thought they were “donated,” but the taxpayer-funded trenching/wiring/installation cost far more than the lights), there is the issue of their visual impact, which is enormous. First the lovely trees lining the street were chopped down, not because the widely-spaced vegetation was in the way, but because a small number of brain-dead Main Street merchants didn’t like them! Why? Because the trees may have partially blocked the view of their business signs, and once a year they shed their leaves! Now the street features a shadeless vista of slab-like storefronts devoid of any plant life, or any other signs of the natural world. To make matters even worse, the twin globe lights are oriented perpendicular to the road, making their lighting function less effective and their ugliness even more apparent. To cap it off the city hung banners from the lamp posts, the graphics of which appear to have been rendered by kindergartners, and not gifted ones at that.
Then there are the downtown storefronts themselves, which constitute the core of Lakeport’s architectural heritage. No self-respecting town would have let these historic buildings be entered in a bizarre contest to see which owner could paint their structure in the most garish and hideous color scheme, but Lakeport did. Even after the city came up with “guidelines” for new paintwork on commercial buildings, the visual carnage continued, as those with pull at City Hall found they had all the leeway they cared for. (Right, Ms. Fowler?)
Recreational activities in Lakeport center around Library Park, which is named for the Carnegie Library sited in the middle of it. The Library has inexplicably sat empty for years, even though the city has had offers from at least one non-profit organization to lease it. The library would also make an ideal location for the police station, which is currently housed in a small office building that the city leases in a sweetheart deal for over $50,000/year. The beautiful panorama of the lake and mountains once viewed from the Third Street entrance has been permanently marred by the city’s newest taxpayer funded eyesore, which is of all things, a pier. How can a relatively small, simple pier ruin the view? Easy: simply moor it with a forest of metal pilings that protrude ten feet out of the water even when the lake is full. Still like the pier? You might change your mind if you knew that the pier and the ramp that serves it cost a half million of your tax dollars and will be used mostly by visiting bass fishermen. There is also the seawall issue, where another quarter million dollars is likely to be spent shoring-up the concrete walkway. They could just pull it out and restore the natural shoreline, making it like nearly every other lakeside park in the county, almost all of which have usable beaches. But no, that kind of simple and permanent solution doesn’t involve engineers and new construction, so it’s a non-starter for the city council. Besides, we can’t have nature rearing it’s ugly head right between two of our favorite boat ramps, can we? Another part of the seawall issue is the ancient and majestic tree that the city blamed for the seawall’s demise, and which was only saved from the chainsaw by the outcry from over 3,000 petition-signing local citizens. This is another prime example of the council’s lack of honesty (it was bad design that caused the cracks, not the tree’s roots), and total lack of aesthetic values.
Nightlife in Lakeport has been hard to find ever since the theater multiplexed itself to the outskirts of town several years ago, and the building has sat idle ever since, due to a staggering number of huge building code and environmental problems that were conveniently ignored as long as a well-connected local businessman ran the operation. Now that the local Arts Council (the complete opposite of the city council) owns the structure, all the expensive-to-comply-with rules are now fully enforced. This potential magnet for downtown nightlife has had zero help from the city, since the council is made up of conservative Republicans, and the Arts Council is comprised of generally much more liberal-minded spirits.
Not one decent family restaurant is to be found on Main Street, and there are no real nightclubs either, so why have fancy new streetlights when nobody walks the streets after dark? All of this is due to the Chamber of Commerce/Main Street Association directing the city’s planning, and the firmly entrenched good old boys on the city council not having any useful ideas of their own to improve the local economy, other than to waste money on consultants who merely point out the obvious.
The lodging situation isn’t much better, as the bulk of the Main Street motels that have lake frontage have no views, other than of the parking lot. The rooms aren’t anything to write home about either, as they are old and show their age, in spite of their modern prices.
So there you have Main Street, few good places to stay, no good affordable places to eat, and a couple of smelly redneck bars for your nightlife. Is it any wonder Lakeport’s downtown is in the economic doldrums?