BEAUTY, TRANQUILITY AND POVERTY
To the Editor:
I moved to Willits 12 years ago. On occasion, "I am asked how do I like the area?" Generally, I am reluctant to answer because I have mixed thoughts. I am surrounded by beauty and tranquility but find little connection with the town itself and only few of its people. I do plan to remain in Willits.
I contribute financially and have volunteered many times for assorted events in Willits. What I write is as an outsider looking in.
Naïveté is all I can say when I first moved here. I saw older men riding bicycles and young people sunning on the grass and I thought what an environmentally thoughtful community. Time passed and I saw more men on bicycles and more young people on the grass and realized this was called poverty.
Last night, a young teenager asked me for money as he was walking from one gas station to the next. I asked, “Where are you staying?” His response was “By the railroad tracks with my mom.” My anger became directed to the mom. Who would allow her son to sleep on dirt and in the cold? Poverty is in all communities but it is ever so present and visible in Willits.
The Redevelopment Agency (RDA) originated in 1945 but was abolished in 2011. Many cities and towns took advantage of its use. The agency's purpose was to provide money to breathe life into a blighted area to encourage new investment. Typically, our property taxes provided the largest supply of this income. Willits could have secured this money to revitalize the community economically by making it attractive for new businesses and investors.
It also provided funds for affordable housing, public facilities, and public infrastructure.
To name a few, Lucerne, Rocklin, Lodi, Windsor, and Cloverdale took advantage of RDAs. All of these towns designed points of interest to encourage new business and residents. They made their towns alive with color and beauty. Lodi and Windsor particularly thrived. Cloverdale has struggled but all of these towns are attractive, clean, and inviting.
I have no information as to what, if or how Willits seized the opportunity to utilize its RDA monies. Perhaps they secured all that was available and were productive with its use. However, what I see presently is a community that is with hardship. It is badly in need of repair and sadly represents itself. Painted storefronts, awnings over entries, floral baskets and planters are nice but do not make a huge impact. If RDA money was used for Commercial St. and Main St. I cannot support this intersection as improvement.
Local elders have told me the founders of this town did not want change or progress. For 17 years, Willits had the same mayor, Leo S. Hulett. He was either a very good mayor or the town's people and directors wanted it managed as status quo. To have the same person running your town for this length of time prohibits new vision — a vision by another of equal quality.
Businesses come and go. In 12 years we've lost Sears, Scotts, Trinity Craft, two bakeries, two video stores, a music store, World of Carpet, the fitness center and pool, two pizza parlors and two restaurants, Rays, Mendo Lake Office Supply, multiple thrift and consignment shops. Our court system abandoned us and funding for the library was almost lost.
The Chamber of Commerce is a network of businesses whose main objectives include promoting and insuring the livelihood of future businesses coming to the Willits area. Businesses should be well advised of this town's economy. It is City Hall that approves business permits but one should not be set-up for failure.
Merchants ask us to buy local. This is only fair as they need our support but most locals cannot afford the high pricing. This means driving down the hill to bigger stores with lower prices. For example, the shoe store on Main Street. Its inventory out-priced even the wealthy. Incidentally, this business closed because it was over-priced not because of the future bypass. It was simply a misfit for this community.
Willits has rendered successful improvements through hard work and efforts. It has provided the community with Roots of Motive Power and Museum, the Skate Park, the Dog Park, Kids Club, Mendocino Community College, and the Health and Human Services Agency. Time will tell if the Wowser program is successful.
We are in the midst of the new Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital being built. We are fortunate to have it at our reach, but do not be misguided of its presence. The objective of any hospital is to make money. Primary goal is profit, secondary is patient. (it used to be in reverse but no longer). This facility will see financial gain quickly each and every day. Finances will never see red and always be black. It will also serve outside communities. One cannot be turned away at the door upon emergency. You may have but one foot in the door and the other outside as you are being asked for money or insurance. This may even occur as you are being treated.
It is hopeful this hospital under its new management is as fair to Willits as we are to them. It will have assets to pay forward. This operative requires patients and the patients are this community. Keep in mind other hospitals are available. Perhaps I am overly skeptical but I have seen hospitals empty beds way too soon.
Willits High School was built in 1929. Let us put this year into perspective: The beginning of 7-Up and Pop-Eye. The Wall Street crash and St. Valentine's Day Massacre. If you were of the first graduating class, you would now be 93. This school out-served its function decades ago. It can no longer be covered up with a bandage.
When a student graduates from his/her Alma Mater, it should be with pride and mark of honor. It is not science when students flock together and have little; then little is what they expect. It is difficult to dream proud unless proud is what you see. Our students have to attend this deplorable facility. Yes, they have the charter school and the alternative school but these too are below standard.
At very young ages, students of Willits have had to struggle that their community is driven by Pot. It is not really fair to these young minds. With all this challenge to overcome, we send them off to a place of blight and tell them it is as good as they're worth.
The most positive goal Willits could achieve is a new high school, in a new location, accessible for the mass. All in this community including the new hospital must support this project. One should consider portions of the old high school as salvageable and, refurbished into a new community center or shelter for our homeless souls.
The Bypass, be it considered good or bad, will come to fruition. There is no analogy that depicts differently. Willits needs to accept this fact and adjust. I am reminded of 1989 with a young man at Tiananmen Square. It is a sad scenario that he stood in front of an army tank thinking he had the power to make it stop. He did not and it did not. Actually, his fate remains questionable. Compare that to the danger of Warbler living in our tree or tying oneself to heavy earthmovers, and yet we are expected to protect these protestors and at our expense.
Now that Low Bucks has closed Willits may very well have but just one grocer, Safeway. With this privilege, you get darkness, tight aisles, a miss-placed Star Bucks, dirty floors, and high prices. Let's not forget the poorly marked parking lot that devours our cars such as the Post Office. There is Mariposa, but here again are the higher prices. Possibly and feasibly, Safeway may relocate to the north or south of the bypass exchange. Along with this will come a gas station and fast food sources. There will be no need for a traveler to drive through Willits unless they are heading to the Coast.
Therefore, as life goes on, my neighbors will continue to drain Brooktrails water and grow their pot outside my bedroom window plus a alleged grow house right smack under the noses of the Brooktrails management as water drips, drips, drips away. The homeless with their pit bulls will become more bountiful, because we invite them. Sheriff Allman will remain short staffed and collect only 10% of pot growth. Finally, the Van Hotel and Remco will outlive us all. Why? Because it is Willits.
Susan Ross, Brooktrails
(courtesy The Willits News)