by Stuart Ward
Last tweaked August 2023
Note: Obviously, the following seven part writing has nothing to do with Stewart Mineral Springs, which independent blog/watchdog site it's under. It's about the writer's longtime home front, located 20 miles from the Springs, that needed a home is all.
Shorter versions of parts 1, 2 and 3 were first published
in the now-zombied Mt. Shasta Herald September 22 and 29, 2021
* * *
The once sleepy, 50 year-old backwoods subdivision of Mount Shasta Vista underwent a radical sea change starting in 2015. While the would-be rural community had already jumped down the rabbit hole long before, it was then to discover even greater depths as a haven for unsanctioned cannabis grows. The following insider retrospective explores where the place was coming from leading up to that momentous year. It hopes to explain why it...well, went to pot...on so many levels. It blends a crazy-quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences, anecdotes, and a semi-informed to better analysis of why the place derailed so spectacularly...and hopes to explain why the beleaguered realm has seemed so hard-pressed to find a saving grace.
Ward, a Vista resident since 1978, has served as a volunteer board member and co-started the ephemeral official Vista website online from 2012 to 2014. In 1984 he hosted a controversial rainbow family 'pre-seed' camp on his land.
He still brakes for road litter.
"...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 A-12 highway entrance off 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've felt they were maybe entering some mysterious enchanted realm.
The welcoming sign and trees, both now long gone, had 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 touch showed how earliest property owners -- then only visiting summers from distant cities -- held an endearing affection for their new-found vacation lands, so nicely secreted away in the high desert foothills below volcanic Mount Shasta's northwestern slope.
Soon the place -- some 15 miles from both Weed and Grenada -- would struggle to segue from its simple recreational land beginnings into a functional, if sparsely settled, residential community. This despite the almost total absence of infrastructure that city dwellers took for granted. This pronounced lack, perhaps more than anything, kept it from ever making a successful transformation into any sort of 'normal' functioning community.
Instead, soon after a short-lived building period of a handful of fully code-approved homes in the early 1970s, it would shift into a kind of permanent, bizarre limbo land at war with itself after becoming an incongruous mix of full-on legal residences and modest, decidedly non-code shelters. As a result, the place was in perennial hot water with the local powers that be -- the health and building departments in particular -- along with the community at large which resented its very existence and so had naturally relegated it an undesirable place to live.
That the shared vacation lands originally had no aspirations to be anything more was indicated by its simple boilerplate CC&Rs. And its association status: it was a POA, or Property Owners Association, not an HOA, or Home Owners Association. Just a Good Sam’s Club, of sorts, out in the boonies. Just an unassuming rural development offering weary city dwellers a mess of private campground parcels. A sea of turn-key wilderness condos, if you will.
There was no water, no electricity, no sewer system. No gas lines, no paved roads, no community center. No parks, no playgrounds...no nothing except lots of lots -- 1,641 of them -- and a labyrinthine 66-mile network of modest cinder roads and signage to access them all.
Called 'ranch roads' by the developer, they were fragile, modest affairs built up of loose rock substrate over often deep sandy soil, with a local volcanic red cinder gravel topping. They were never designed to regularly withstand heavy loads or frequent or fast traffic. A 15 miles-per-hour speed limit was set to help preserve them plus keep the backwoods' relaxed, tranquil atmosphere intact and dust down. Ongoing maintenance was covered by the annual mandatory-membership property assessment informally called road dues.
The realm was situated a few miles uphill and east of the exurb of Lake Shastina. The majority of lots offered a real sense of seclusion, existing as they did between one to five miles off the blacktop. On parcels furthest from its five highway entrances it could feel more like fifty due to the land's often profound quietude.
The 1,641 lots averaged 2-½ acres each and were flung over seven square miles of mostly junipers and sagebrush, with a scattering of tall pine. The development spanned nearly six miles between furthest points: Pilar Road and Perla Drive in Section 13 to Trails End Road and Rising Hill Road in southernmost Section 28.
The fledgling development flanked national forest on many borders. The square-mile sections were platted into two giant clumps, separated by a square mile of Bureau of Land Management land, with the county highway running between the second, smaller clump of sections 23 and 13 near Pluto Caves and Sheep Rock respectively.
As so often happened in rural subdivisions, the developers conjured up whimsical road names to try to tickle the fancy of potential vacation land buyers. Evocative names like Lost Mine Road, Zane Gray Drive and Happy Lane. One perhaps harked back to a classic movie line: Rosebud. Another was a shameless pun: Frankie Lane. A few were named after saints, like St. George Drive and St. Mary Road, perhaps sometimes giving the development the air of being an unlikely Catholic retreat camp. Two, Collins Drive and McLarty Road, were named after the developer and his main man.
Born amid controversy,
place became an instant problem child
The development officially gave birth on November 3, 1965*, brainstorm of Los Angeles area developer George Collins on land he purchased from the pioneering Martin family that had long laid claim to much of the wider region. Longtime locals had been grazing livestock on the land forever, and the region was deemed among the best hunting ground in the entire county for over a century. Before white settlers, Indians had seasonally hunted through the area; the writer found a complete obsidian arrowhead on his parcel the very first week.
The story went that when a Martin family member sold the vast acreage to Collins, he hadn't first gotten permission from the others. Apparently too late to cancel the sale, they were more than a little ticked off over the commercial nonsense soon to be afoot in their now-lost ancestral holding. No doubt they aired their grievances to the region's fellow residents, building up a community displeasure clear to the halls of local government, which resulted in a flinty blanket condemnation of the development they were suddenly stuck with -- years before respectable lot owners ever first aspired to segue the primitive rec lands into an uber-rural residential retirement community.
* According to the date formal paperwork was filed and time-stamped in Siskiyou county courthouse. This date was used rather than earlier, yet to be filed, date of incorporation, August 18, 1965.
Locals grumbled over how their longtime informal backwoods hunting, camping and grazing haven was closed off just so a bunch of vacationing city folk could lollygag about in their fancy Airstreams a few weeks out the year.
Adding to the festering controversy: the county board of supervisors, some no doubt having sided with the aggrieved Martin family members and incensed locals, reportedly almost denied greenlighting its formation. For the record, the hesitation was over lack of water, plus being often rocky, volcanic land that couldn't support conventional septic systems, should owners ever want to actually build on their lots. Off the record, it seemed some just didn't want the place, period.
Thus an already very contentious situation was on its way to snowballing out of control.
A few years later, a handful of adventurous owners, after many vacations, were smitten by the idea of the the land maybe being nice spot to retire at, and so began actually settling on their parcels lock, stock and barrel. Each would dutifully first drill an approved well, get power lines extended and install a regulation septic system, supplying all their own infrastructure needs -- all before starting to build their houses fully to code. In the meantime, most lived elsewhere. On the surface it looked as though the place was tenuously on its way to becoming a respectable (if ultra sparsely settled) rural community...
...until, soon after, a growing stream of less solvent and often more free-spirited parcel buyers -- likewise attracted to the secluded, unspoiled lots with irresistibly low prices -- flooded the land on the cheap. They were intent on simply ignoring codes and regulations, as they figured what they did on their land out in the middle of nowhere was their business. They moved onto their lots before the ink on the paperwork was dry.
That's when all hell really broke loose.
The place's already gnarly spirit, first from negative outside forces and now from within as well, went into warp drive. Dutifully code-compliant residents went unhinged, frothing at the mouth. The snowball by then was growing into such monstrous proportions, almost as if some demonic force had taken hold of the place and would forever bedevil a would-be-tranquil realm.
Between teeth-gnashing, code-compliant residents on the warpath over the plague of non-compliant dwellers; rebellious non-compliant residents taking heat and kicking back; disillusioned absentee parcel holders disconnected from resident concerns and feeling stuck with lots they could no longer use recreationally or sell without taking a bath; put-upon county authorities over time giving up even trying to enforce its health and building codes; and an embittered farming/ranching community viewing its inhabitants through distorted fun-house mirrors...add all these together and the place never had (you knew it was coming) a snowball's chance in hell.
A vexatious spirit came to infect the realm like an incurable disease. A contentious force field soon permanently hovered over the otherwise serene high desert woodlands like storm clouds, forever threatening to rain on the parade of all, code-legal and non-compliant alike.
No matter how many future residents would dedicate themselves to try turning things around and salvage the development's early promise, the place seemed like it would never be more than a stalled-out recreational development that failed to ever evolve into a standard community or even the faintest facsimile thereof.
In realtors' stark parlance, the place was road kill.
Down the rabbit hole
The more free-wheeling, non-compliant dwellers beginning to populate the place would jump down a rabbit hole into their own private world the rarefied land energies could readily inspire. Soon enjoying wild Mad Hatter tea parties all but oblivious to the outside world and its innumerable regulations, they dismissed as impotent ravings the rants of the Red Queen, in the guise of the largely powerless property owners' board and its supporters, screaming, "They'll build to code or it's off with their heads!"
Continuing with this Alice in Wonderland analogy: Standing in for both the hookah-smoking caterpillar and Cheshire cat was, again, the stony spiraling vortex energies of massive Mount Shasta. The backwoods, clinging to its very foothills, a half hour from any town's normalizing influence, appeared fully under its surreality-inducing sway.
According to one definition, an energy vortex is "A place on earth that acts as a hub for energy...believed to exist at the intersection of ley lines, or lines of natural energy, that make up the earth's electromagnetic energy field." While some new-age wisdom even went so far as to claim Mount Shasta was the root chakra of the entire planet, most everyone agreed that it indeed emanated some very palpable, mysterious, powerful energy that could affect everyone within its field, and perhaps not always in a good way. (That's why First Nation people never lived any closer to it; its energies were too strong for comfort.)
Being under the mountain's influence could induce some pretty wild fantasies if not outright hallucinations. It could all but erase from mind any pesky notions of following society's conventional rules. When the resulting non-code living scene cropped up, code-compliant dwellers (obviously having resisted its influence) saw their fledgling, uptown-rustic community in imminent peril.
If they didn't scramble to stem the tide and demand that the county enforce its health and building codes, all would be lost...their nascent retirement village gone with the wind. So, at the Red Queen's behest, they summoned the Card Soldiers, in the guise of the county's health and building departments -- sometimes accompanied by a deputy should a situation threaten to turn gnarly, or in time as a matter of course -- to restore law and order in the now-beleaguered wonderland.
Time proved their struggle to save the place proved a losing battle. Eventually, residency code enforcement efforts would be all but abandoned by county authorities. Stunned code-compliant retiree residents, devastated over the county's seeming inability and/or unwillingness to any more effectively enforce the residency codes, were left gnashing their teeth and spitting-nails mad.
Despite what had appeared to be an auspicious start as a popular shared vacation land, and, soon after, a respectable embryonic rural retirement enclave, the slew of parcels would end up being a giant, messy oil-and-water mix of code-approved homes and 'outlaw' dwellings. (Plus the occasional die-hard retreat visiting owner hoping to avoid the downer of polarized politics and enjoy the place as originally planned.)
It was thus snared between worlds. Chronically skitzy in its reason for being, it was an unwanted child lacking 'parental' support from the county and local community alike. The Vista was left frozen in time, nursing a serious identity crisis and denied ever finding a rightful place in the sun.
Emboldened by the realm's remoteness
Despite such a daunting load of handicaps, it seemed there was always a fitful stream of buyers interested in moving onto the remote, increasingly maligned parcels. Beyond the hopeful investors soon feeling stuck with their holdings in an arrested development, the disinterested speculators hoping to make a fast buck, and those content to merely retreat on their lots now and then -- beyond these were people for whom the parcels proved irresistible: land-hungry people. Especially those on a tight budget, those looking for cheap country land to drop anchor on -- if 'between homes', instantly, hoping to live 'between the cracks' of society's more enforced living standards. While some like the writer would (grudgingly) conform to building code, others, blissfully ignorant of, or studiously ignoring, such mundane, more city-centric regulations ever being actually enforced deep in the boonies, held more of a "What code? You're kidding, right?" attitude and who could blame them.
The succeeding waves of the last were emboldened by three things: (1) the place's remoteness, which made it feel like its own little kingdom somehow, far removed from prosaic realities; (2) its by then mostly abandoned original intent, which created enough confusion, divisive chaos and uncertainty to take ready advantage of; and (3) soon enough, the lack of sustained residential code enforcement by the county despite a solid core of code-compliant dwellers and an all but powerless property owners board lacking fining power all screaming bloody murder.
Some casual owner-builders -- labeled ""violators", "illegal residents" and eventually, perhaps the unkindest cut, 'squatters' -- first moved in with a casual air of "Hey, what's the big deal? we're just building a little shelter for ourselves on our own land here out in the middle of nowhere; c'mon, gimme a break." In time, knowing something of the place's code-conformity battle, but also of its increasingly spotty enforcement, other newbies went on the offensive, moving into their unconnected trailers and mobile homes or building ramshackle shelters with a more brazen attitude of "Hee, hee, what're you goin' to do about it, huh?" Or like screaming eagles: "Hey, this was still America the last time I checked; this is my land now and so I'll do whatever I damn well please on it; back the hell off."
Eventually, non-code construction became more or less epidemic. Unconventional structures sprang up like mushrooms after heavy rain. Some dwellings were artful, others void of any charm except perhaps to its inhabitants. It was as though dwellers had time-warped back to the pioneer era when plains settlers built primitive earth-sheltered soddies and forest settlers threw together basic log cabins. As if late in the twentieth century the development had somehow magically become a latter day frontier, far removed from modern times with all its dratted spirit-stifling regulations over how one was supposed to live.
In time, certain dwellers -- feeling light years removed from any dependable responsive law enforcement save for most serious matters (a 45 minute wait time being not uncommon if arriving at all) -- would essentially deem themselves a law unto themselves.
Buy in Haste...
No doubt many impulsive first buyers among those interested in actually using the land were at best only vaguely aware of the place's sundry handicaps and liabilities, any number of which would turn off your more circumspect land shopper exercising due diligence. They were giddy over the notion of getting such a generous-sized piece of unspoiled land in such a popular recreational region at such a dirt cheap price. Eureka! It was practically the modern day equivalent of history's Forty Acres and a Mule giveaway. The parcels proved so irresistible, any normally felt need for due diligence merrily flew out the window; parcels were snapped up like so many bargain basement steals. Before the place's sundry disheartening realities at last percolated into the grey matter, new would-be resident-owners spun excited dreams and schemes of how they'd enjoy their new secluded woodlands seemingly hidden so nicely away from modern times' slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
It appeared that many buyers, given the place's choice rural location and low prices, were willing to make generous allowances for the almost total absence of infrastructure. Water was scarce, waste handling nonexistent, and no more than maybe 10% of the parcels would ever get connected to the electrical power grid. While this had presented little or no problem during the first years of exclusive camping and simple retreat use -- trailers being self-contained and one otherwise making like a bear in the woods a bit -- it was flirting with sure disaster when more and more would-be residents rolled the dice and began settling on parcels without seeking anyone's approval but their own. In proceeding to establish primitive seasonal camps and year-round ramshackle dwellings, the pedigree of the Vista began its long, irreversible decline from fledgling standard rural community that its respectable residents had briefly enjoyed into a seemingly anything-goes, scofflaw outback which the county would soon throw up its hands over.
Onerous building code & the owner-builder
Unsanctioned buildings flourished. More and more buyers bent on settling their lots appeared to lack the resources and/ or willingness to build anything to code. Freer spirits considered building requirements ridiculously over-complicated, needlessly intrusive and exorbitantly costly. As if, some felt, they perhaps only reflected the cushy living standard of the more affluent strata of society, who then imperiously demanded everyone dance to their tune. Hoping to avoid such stringent codes -- and the inflated lifestyles of would-be upward mobiles tempted to live beyond their means and drowning in debt -- was the very reason so many would move to the Vista in the first place: to get back to basics, to live more simply, within one's means.
For it was one thing to have a few reasonable guidelines in place to avoid getting unsightly, flimsy owner-built structures that could blow over the first strong wind and to ensure critical hygienic standards, quite another to insist one living on their own land out in the middle of nowhere overbuild by a safety factor of five, install double-glazed windows, super-insulate roof, install fire sprinkler systems...
In the 1970s there was an effort led by a group of outraged Mendocino county, California rural owner-builders to establish less onerous building requirements. It eventually resulted in then-governor Jerry Brown approving a Class K housing bill specifically with such rural owner-builders in mind. But it got so watered down in 1981 by an apparently construction-industry friendly assembly that it was left to each county to adopt or not. Only three did; Siskiyou county wasn't one. Its building department, at home in dealing with contractors who knew the drill in their sleep, seemed owner-builder hostile, not wanting to hold the hand or guide rank amateur builders in the myriad ways demanded to conform to the quagmire of regulations and specifications. They assumed -- not without good reason given the code's impossibly elaborate, pricey requirements -- that many who were only reluctantly conforming owner-builders would try to 'cheat' the code at every turn.
While such draconian requirements had effectively discouraged earlier, would-be non-compliant builders, in later times, with the one-time iron grip of society's old order weakening, a more rebellious scofflaw attitude emerged. People aspired to build rural shelter however they fancied, not ever thinking of first getting Mother-may-I? permission from any blasted busy-body, bureaucratic authorities. (Though on a smaller scale, in some circles playing "beat the code" was almost as popular as "cops and growers" would become in later times.) Bound and determined to live on their bought-and-paid-for property and figuring possession was nine-tenths of the law, such Vistans' attitude was, again: "Hey, this is my property and I'll do whatever I want on it; go jump in a lake if you don't like it."
...regret at leisure
As the place's sundry problems became painfully clear to Vista parcel holders, an intense love-hate relationship with the land emerged -- especially among those who hoped to actually settle on their remote lots. It was "Buy in haste, regret at leisure", a sad, familiar song: lured by the rural development's cheap parcels, the buyer, if wanting to make any more use of the place than just camp on it up to 30 days a year, realized that the lack of infrastructure would require shelling out a small fortune to get residency-legal.
For the same or related reasons, the parcels became an albatross around the necks of investors, speculators and vacationers alike. Their holdings were no longer in a dedicated recreational development once homes went up and they were then often unable to sell them at a profit as vacation lots to anyone knowing the score -- which didn't take much sussing to discover. One had only to talk to your typical walking wounded resident. Their ears might soon be singed as the disenchanted party, warming to their task, raked the place over the coals with almost demonic intensity.
It was a buyer remorse pattern destined to be repeated by thousands over time.
But the subtle magic and simplicity of an affordable tranquil backwoods under the protective presence of the magical mountain, feeling worlds away from noisy, over-wound city living, kept grabbing both new would-be residents and investors alike. The latter thought to quickly flip the cheap parcels up the food chain, while it kept the former blind to mundane concerns like conforming to the then strictly enforced building code requirements -- until, out of the blue, it bit them on the backside and they joined the howling chorus of disillusioned owners.
Lots practically sold themselves
In all fairness to the developer, the parcels were originally offered ONLY as primitive camp lands. Nothing more. It was all upfront and legal. They were simple places of retreat for weary city dwellers wanting to rough it and enjoy refuge on their own piece of relatively unspoiled nature every now and then. Developer Collins maybe sensed he needn't invest any more time, money or effort into the project than he did in order to move the lots, creating a simple wilderness retreat, each lot with well-maintained road access and platted to a fare-thee-well, corner boundaries marked by pounded red steel pipe and nearby, ribboned lathe sticks with scrawled bearings.
If so, he was right. It appeared the enthusiasm over the chance to spend spring, summer, or maybe still-pleasant early fall amid the solitude of one's own affordable woodlands, majestic Mt. Shasta watching over the scene big as life, was contagious. So much so that, with the help of a little sizzling ad copy, the lots practically sold themselves.
The spiel naturally attracted others with zero personal camping interests. Arguably, the majority who snapped up the parcels did so primarily as a long-term investment, if not outright speculation, imagining others -- not them, thank you -- might soon be clamoring to enjoy such secluded, affordable properties. Some would sample their 'wilderness time-shares' a time or two beforehand, hoping to sell them at a handsome profit down the road once the development grew in popularity.
Again, no infrastructure besides a reliable nearby water source was needed to fulfill the place's original purpose. The tiny minority who visited and enjoyed the lots were psyched at the prospect of roughing it on their own backwoods parcels. They reveled in the realm's at times pronounced peace and quiet and charm of a yet mostly intact high desert backwoods ecosystem. Maybe a few saw in them something to leave the kids or grandkids.
As far as things went, on the surface everything appeared hunky dory. It was easy to be blissfully ignorant of the festering, behind the scene controversy brewing over the place's very creation and the locals' abiding, ax-grinding resentment of it even existing in their backyard, crimping their long-accustomed-to, settled lifestyle...not to mention the county board having barely greenlit it and warily looking at it askance ever since.
One had the convenience and luxury of camping on their own bit of nature for free up to 30 days a year, rather than pay someone daily to camp, others maybe setting up twenty feet away with a passel of squalling kids. A mini-movement was afoot -- many coming from the Los Angeles region, but also from the Bay Area and Central Valley -- buyers pitching tents and rolling in their travel trailers to the region's inviting wild seclusion, fresh air and seasonally balmy climate.
The terrain was high desert woodlands. Though powerful seasonal windstorms could prove treacherous, the place generally enjoyed an enviable banana belt climate, with often delightful springs and falls. Summers were hot and usually bone dry, but there were plenty of junipers trees and the few scattered pines for inviting shade. Adventurous residents in the west end of section 7 were a modest hike away from a cross-country irrigation canal to cool off in. In such hot weather the mountain’s spectacular northern glacier-clad side could do wonders keeping one feeling cooler just by gazing on its chilled splendor.
"Bye 'n' bye" came fast
Significantly, it seemed developer Collins couldn't resist throwing out the idea that one's parcel might make a dandy place to retire to "bye 'n' bye." He'd relayed this notion in passing in the official Vista newsletter periodically sent to every member and avidly read by new owners of the brand spanking new, low-key wilderness parcels so nicely tucked away at the central top of the golden state, regal crown of Mount Shasta offering its blessing.
Since practically next door Lake Shastina would spring up a couple years later, initially as a second-home vacation community, it assured that bye 'n' bye wouldn’t be long at all. It gave a handful of so-minded Vistan landholders the impetus to follow suit, but with a twist: building structures not as second residences but, as Collins suggested, full-on, primary-residence, retirement homes.
Like Lake Shastina, it usually got far less snow than nearby Weed or the City of Mt. Shasta, due to the region's phenomenal crazy-quilt of micro-climates. Just enough to enjoy a winter wonderland now and then without getting a sore back or frostbitten hands shoveling snow or having to put on chains to get out on never-plowed roads. (Long ago the place tried plowing after rare heavy snowfalls; the equipment blade tore up the cinder roadbeds so badly, requiring expensive and laborious repair work, that it proved impractical.)
Con su permiso:
dealing with the building code
Of course it was understood that it was on each would-be resident to spring for getting power lines extended, drill an approved well, and install an approved septic system -- all before the county would ever deign to issue a building permit...and even then only after submission and approval of exacting plans that met every last code requirement. Only then did it allow one the option of living on the land in an onsite trailer or shed during the construction phase. (While work was expected to advance "in a timely manner", the writer stretched out his own building project 42 months.)
Only then would the post office assign the lot a legal street address (or, technically, release the already existing one) and thus enable one to receive mail at the blacktop entrance boxes, and such an address being needed for such things as obtaining a state driver's license, registering to vote and qualifying for FedEx and UPS and OnTrac to make home deliveries.
The extensive health and building codes included its maddeningly detailed details for permanent foundation; framing method, with itemization down to the grade and variety of lumber and size, type and spacing and specific kind and size of fasteners; minimum structure size; electrification, insulation, full kitchen facilities, indoor plumbing, minimum water pressure... Any unconventional design, like a geodome, earthship, cob home or earth-sheltered residence, required hiring a qualified engineer to certify that the submitted plan would prove structurally sound besides otherwise meeting all requirements and specifications. As said, most early Vista owner-builders, having hired others to do most or all the construction, didn't move onto their properties until the houses were completed and given the official county blessing by being signed off after a final inspection and thus getting 'green-tagged'.
While the Uniform Building Code had been around in the U.S. since 1915, enforcement was doubtless relaxed to nonexistent in more rural areas for a long time. Primary focus was first concentrated on crowded cities with their close-packed structures, built by detached contractors who'd never live in their creations and were often tempted to take shortcuts on construction integrity that could result in dissatisfaction or even tragedy by their eventual inhabitants.
Out in the country, property owners could still more or less build their own cabins and cottages to suit themselves at their leisure, even play it by ear, overall design maybe emerging only half-way through, if then. But with bureaucratic regulations' tendency to be adopted by ever greater numbers over time (cynics would say spreading like a cancer), until, victoriously universalized, authorities finally came to at least try insisting that the same exhaustive guidelines adhered to in teeming cities be followed deep in the furthest reaches of sparsely populated, mostly rural Siskiyou County, on one's obscure property out in the middle of nowhere.
Priced to move
Parcels were priced to move fast. Writer seems to remember reading in an old newsletter how they went for between $750. and $975. each (in 1969 dollars, worth almost twice the 2023 dollar), depending on parcel size, location and land features. The developer had relatively low overhead and wasn't out to get rich off the project. He was already successful from urban developments and so could afford to be generous with this one. He appeared to hold a genuine affection for the place and wanted lot sales to feel like the feel-good bargain they were (if for rec use only). Overhead was minimal. There were no steep infrastructure costs beyond putting in and maintaining red-cinder roads, many traced over preexisting logging and hunting roads; surveying and marking off each parcel boundary; erecting entrance and section-corner signs; and planting short, 4X4 inch, wooden road sign posts with stenciled lettering, many soon camouflaged by fast-growing sagebrush.
No doubt all kinds of first-generation buyers purchased lots for all kinds of reasons. But, again, countless snapped them up in pure speculation: "Hey, they're not making land any more." Many never camped on them, some doubtless never even set foot on them. Though others were indeed psyched at the prospect of enjoying their own private campground and/or maybe saw them as something to enjoy on retirement, arguably the overwhelming majority were simply betting on the place. They anticipated making out like bandits once the place grew, maybe becoming something like a giant KOA-style camp village, loaded with amenities and services, attracting a flood of vacationing campers who'd be tickled over the idea of owning such (by then) popular recreational properties by fabled Mount Shasta.
That or, as instead happened, the place segued into a de facto rural community...one that would've actually succeeded and thrived, indeed driving up parcel prices sky high, had every would-be resident taken responsibility for meeting their own infrastructure needs before then building to code.
Obviously that didn't happen. Pouring such a heavy investment into primitive, cheap land was something that could only be done by people flush with cash from selling their city homes, having a big savings nest egg, or a willingness (and eligibility) to take on such major debt -- along with, of course, the mindset to deal with the time-consuming, hoop-jumping bureaucratic process of building to code in the first place. Understandably, this plan didn't elicit a ringing endorsement from the less solvent -- many of whom wanted to move onto their new lots immediately -- instant homesteads or why else buy them? They maybe only had enough to cover the modest down and score some derelict mobile home or trailer, or throw up a makeshift shelter on the fly from scrap lumber, and call it okey dokey.
It seemed cheap land and cheap shelters could easily go together.
Earliest investors obviously never anticipated this major wrinkle of a soon-to-emerge epidemic of noncompliance. Between hearing about code-legal homes springing up and developer Collins talking up a rosy picture over the place's bright future, they assumed everyone would of course build to code.
Convinced they'd made a smart investment, they'd patiently sit back and wait for parcel values to take off.*
* They only had to wait half a century. Parcel values would at long last start a flight to the moon in 2015. Values of unimproved lots skyrocketed from $5,000 to over $150,000 by 2021, following both the national red-hot realty market and the place's discovery by underground cannabis growers, anticipating California legalizing recreational pot and largely unenforceable restrictions that decriminalized unsanctioned commercial grows to the point a bust was little more bother than a traffic ticket. Lots would then sell like crazy for reasons totally unrelated to infrastructure build-up, still almost nil, or any formal development plans, still nonexistent.
The startling phenomenon would seem fully in keeping with the extreme boom-bust nature of the place. One that -- due to factors beyond the scope of this writing -- would cause unimproved lot prices to plummet back down by 2022 when they might again find few takers at $10,000 to 20,000. ("Price reduced $80,000.")
The place's extreme boom-bust nature could maybe be likened to a bone-dry desert that experienced a brief flash flood every decade or two. A deluge of land-hungry people and/or cagey speculators descended on the region, driving up prices or trying to, then the land and market returned to their default, bone-dry conditions.
In the Vista's late sixties' start, every last one of the lots was snapped up in 18 months. This fact belies a later popular assumption that the developer had been stuck with parcels nobody wanted. People wanted them all right -- or thought they did, at first. It was the hundreds of absentee owners and those they sold them to who, in time realizing the development had gone seriously cattywampus, couldn't get rid of them fast enough. But they didn't want to sell at a loss. So the odd lots, though charming to any who valued rustic seclusion and an inspiring mountain view, in time became a veritable drug on the market. While still offered cheaply compared to most any other similar regional properties, even so they often found few takers once its bizarre pedigree, rife with gnarly contention, daunting shortcomings and the high cost to get code compliant, became fairly common knowledge.
No one had felt stuck with them during those momentous first years, though. A historic back-to-nature movement was ratcheting into high gear. A healthy minority of the parcel buyers were stoked at the prospect of enjoying their own unspoiled bit of nature in one of upper California's popular recreational regions. Such vacationers -- and soon, residents -- saw in the sprawling rural development something of a budding backwoods paradise.
Excited over discovering such an affordable wonderland to vacation in -- or, far more commonly, a sure-fire realty investment -- it seemed everyone and their uncle was merrily tumbling down the rabbit hole.
An inside look at
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years:
1965 - 2015
Informal history by longtime resident of one-time recreational development, including futile efforts to evolve it into standard community
The Vista Thru Time
Further sussing of a rather peculiar development
Mt. Shasta Vista was, well, different
In some ways the Vista was different from other rural subdivisions of the region forming about the same time. These included Lake Shastina (3,200 lots, started in 1968); McCloud area’s Shasta Forest (791 lots, launched in 1966); Juniper Valley subdivision (some 240 lots, exact founding date unknown); possibly Hornbrook region’s KRCE (2,050 lots, begun 1967; and Hammond Ranch (launched in 1969, some 430 lots).
One big difference, apart from relative water scarcity: the Vista, born a simple recreational development, never hammered out a master plan for residential growth, there being none until years after its launch.
Its ruling documents (CC&Rs, or Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions), were basic and general. Once the place's first few parcel holders dropped anchor, it rendered the original legal framework inadequate, in time spelling out almost certain disaster without extensive revisions being tackled. Such a re-imagining plan was crucial if ever hoping to provide avenue for building out any kind of community with actual rhyme and reason, creating guardrails to steer the development in agreed on directions by board members and other involved parcel owners.
It might've then created, for instance, legal powers for the volunteer governing board to fine owners for infractions to agreed-on standards (admittedly a two-edged sword), working to assure maintaining a desired quality level and lifestyle of community. This would've enabled putting a lien on one's ownership title for chronic nonpayment of an infraction and thus work to establish an at least grudging respect for the rule of law and so minimize scofflaw behavior.
Without an overarching plan for residential growth, Mt. Shasta Vista was always left struggling to swim upstream against strong currents, always subject to the vagaries of the place's latest owners' druthers. Any efforts by a rotating flock of civic-minded dwellers over time to transform the place from its primitive beginnings into an actual residential community, one that everyone might take a bit of pride in, largely proved an exercise in futility.
Again, with so many parcel owners being absentee and seldom, if ever, visiting, from the very start it seemed most title holders were betting on the hoped for actions of a few -- initially the minority of owners who'd vacation here, and then, later, the even smaller number who'd actually drop anchor, those who'd naturally be inclined to work to further the place along and thus increase lot values. Meanwhile, they'd just sit back and let things progress. Then at some point they'd either begin enjoying the place themselves or (more likely) simply cash in and make a fair chunk of change for their troubles.
It would obviously prove far more troubles than they could ever imagine. Holders were destined to lose heart in droves not long after the development's one early promising burst of improvement efforts by residents. By the early 1970s, visiting, repeat campers and residents-to-be would rally, pulling together to establish an informal community well off Juniper Drive. It included an enormous holding tank with a giant overhead valve for quickly filling water trucks, and by also having a garden spigot the set up served both campers and initially well-less home builders. (Collins, with his usual largess, sold the association a water truck for a dollar.) About the same time, many paid into a fund to get electric power lines extended to their lots for anticipated or already begun dwellings. (Covered in detail in part 6.) A long mobile home was pulled in in which to hold the initial state-mandated monthly volunteer board meetings.
After this flurry of activity, though, enthusiasm for group efforts seemed to run out of steam. New residents switched gears and scrambled to singly carve out their own backwoods mini-kingdoms.
As earlycomers built the first county-approved dwellings, the place was momentously shifting from shared camp land to the beginnings of an actual living community -- albeit one spread so thinly amidst the vast acreage that dwellings might've appeared surreally misplaced to your more impressionable visitors cruising the giant labyrinth of backroads. Former interest in enjoying one's parcel for camping vacations no doubt nosedived overnight, as the prospect of pitching a tent within view of someone's living room window couldn't have proved very enticing.
The place had, suddenly, become neither fish nor fowl.
Fast forward and once various unapproved shelters began flooding the scene, the realm's fledgling legitimate rural community lifestyle and legal status was in grave peril. Without updating the CC&Rs, or every future would-be resident toeing the line and meeting all county health and building code requirements -- made difficult and pricey for the pronounced lack of easy water and power and waste disposal means -- the place seemed at an impossible impasse. It would be stymied at every turn despite whatever efforts were made by the scattered code-compliant residency to keep growing it into some sort of normal, recognized community...or even the faintest facsimile thereof.
At one point early on, the association actually did get it together so far as to appoint volunteer block captains for each of the seven sections. They worked to keep informed of all the goings on in their respective sections, driving around and being apprised of sundry matters by other residents and visitors, then relaying reports to board members to suss over at monthly meetings and deal with if action seemed merited. This phase of organized grass roots government showed that, despite the unfortunate set of circumstances, there was at least a sense of community and cohesion among the earliest residency. Even if its primary motivation was likely only to try nipping in the bud any code violations going on, it at least showed some sort of civic-minded spirit. One that might've served the place well in the long run, had it transformed from being downer reactive, law-and-order policing into more positive and fair-minded cooperative efforts.
Even such rudimentary grass roots efforts soon all but disappeared, victim of -- as they saw it -- too many barbarians storming the gates and an overwhelmed county code enforcement staff and non-empowered property owner board unable to keep them from actually staying.
The flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants legal residency found themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The white elephant time forgot (or tried to)
As a result of such a daunting series of snafus and resulting chaos, most outside interest in the wayward development flatlined for decades. After it outgrew its original planned use but then stalled trying to segue into something more (at least by accepted standards), parcel values were lucky to even keep up with inflation.
The development became an unmanageable white elephant of odd lots. They were more trouble than they were worth to try moving and earn a paltry commission to the thinking of many regional realtors.
It was perhaps not unlike other failed rural subdivisions California developers hatched over time. Like the controversial 15,287 one-acre lots of California Pines outside Alturas. Or California City, "America's Largest Abandoned City," 204 square miles, all platted out and roads made in the treeless Mojave Desert. Like them, the arrested rec-land of Shasta Vista had become yet another place time forgot...or tried to.
In time this suited the few actual few residents just fine. Various dwellers grew accustomed to the rich solitude and relished the park-like setting. So few residents amid so much nature proved delightful. But it was terrible for investors and speculators. They found it hard to impossible to sell holdings no longer having anything going for them to entice would-be buyers beyond being cheap rural properties with great mountain views. Lands no longer dedicated to camping yet requiring huge outlays and serious investments of time and effort if wanting to live here legally found precious few interested parties.
Again, it didn't help sales efforts any that the place had from the very start gotten such a bad rap, being bitterly resented by the farming and ranching locals and seen as highly problematic by county government. (Some supervisors had no doubt sided with the livid Martin family members and outraged locals.)
They'd refused to accept as legitimate the unwanted child left squalling in their midst.
"Just a matter of time"
Many parcel owners held onto their apparent boondoggles even so; in a dime, in a dollar. They doubled down, paying the piper in the guise of the ever-increasing annual road assessments through gritted teeth, determined not to lose their shirts on what they first thought was a sure thing. As if in denial, they refused to believe their investment wouldn't pay off some day.
After ages, finally convinced the place appeared having zero chances of ever pulling itself together, many finally bit the bullet. As fed up owners scrambled to unload the clunkers en masse, raw parcels flooded the market.
There were usually few takers. Even at the modest $1,200 to $1,750 asking price and easy terms. Those who did snap them up were often only themselves disinterested professional investors, making small side bets on the place by parking a bit of extra cash a while, knowing the right suc -- er, client would come along. Or uninformed casual investors infected with the latest errant round of uninformed speculation fever: "It was such a ridiculously low price, I couldn't resist." Or diehard optimists, thinking to enjoy the parcels themselves once the place got itself together or, at the very least, having something valuable to leave their families.
But beyond such calculated dice rolling and optimistic, "some day" purchasing were, again, the relative few who wanted to move onto the parcels outright -- some immediately. To them, the lots were pure catnip. They were eager to secure such affordable country land and make like Thoreau, living simply and letting the rest of the world go by. Or were maybe planning in time to build, establish a home business, or commute to work, as the place became a bedroom community of sorts in time. A few were still willing to build to code and fulfill an age-old dream of becoming respectable country gentry.
Yet others -- entirely too many to the thinking of the foaming at the mouth, code-legal residents -- were only looking for an affordable place to hide out on the now-marginalized properties to avoid city rent with its steep first and last plus security deposit cost, some probably dodging child support or an outstanding arrest warrant or two. Even if it meant drastically downscaling one's living standards and hauling in a derelict mobile home or trailer, setting up tents, or fashioning a ramshackle structure from scrounged building materials on the fly and generating cesspools (at best) for waste and hauling in every drop of water. And either firing up generators or going without go-juice. Even if a power line teasingly skirted their properties, it couldn't be hooked up to any structure not having first satisfied the long list of residential code requirements.
They'd cross their fingers and hope the powers that be would let them be. With law and order still holding sway during the first decades of the place, it seemed there was fat chance of that.
Round and round
The mirage of a Mt. Shasta Shangri-la, a dreamy backwoods realm clearly undervalued and under-exploited, kept proving irresistible to all sorts and for all sorts of reasons. As it seduced detached speculators, hopeful investors and would-be residents alike, a predictable pattern of owner relationship with the parcels emerged.
Sporadic cycles of short-lived buying mania followed by long-term absences of any interest whatsoever became the Vista dance. After decades, hundreds of parcels were -- apart from campfire stone rings and driveways roughed in, maybe cluttered with an outhouse or abandoned trailer -- still clinging to their relatively pristine states. And so they kept luring new impulsive buyers wowed by the land's subtle charms and dirt-cheap prices. Having ephemeral fantasies, soon to be abandoned, a long succession of initially jazzed owners and casual small investors over time lost all interest in the lots or a belief in their potential profitability. Some parcels doubtless changed hands over half a dozen times in the half century, always attracting a new flock of buyers who seemed powerless to resist grabbing such an amazing land bargain.
As said, the mountain in the place's very backyard appeared to emanate a powerful, almost palpable, yet still undefinable, force. Those embracing new-age mindsets thought it could work to over-stimulate a person's upper chakras if not better grounded on arriving. The thinking went that such people, coming from distant urban places where lower-chakra energies dominated and upper chakras tended to atrophy, suddenly had imaginations and visualizing powers wildly over-amped. Under the mountain's spell the mind reeled, bursting with excited fantasies of what all they'd do with their new secluded properties bought for a song.
You could say that in a way the phenomenon was California dreamin' full tilt.
The forlorn development kept spinning round and round on its own short-boom-long-bust merry-go-round. Riders reached for the ever-elusive brass ring of easy country living or fast turnover profits, while select realtors, trying to make their nut moving such marginal properties, supplied the calliope's shrill yet hypnotic tune.
Stymied by disinterested, soured speculators
It probably can't be overstated: Seriously vying with the litany of all the other problems -- water scarcity, lack of electricity, absence of development plans, resentful locales putting a whammy on the place and the high cost of code compliance, perhaps topping the list, even, was the enormous detached speculative force of a sea of absentee lot owners disconnected from residents' realities and concerns and feeling bitterly stuck with lemons that required further shelling out for annual assessments. It acted to undermine even the most determined efforts of the more civic minded residents to try salvaging the place and move it forward onto some semblance of solid footing as a viable community.
For, all other problems aside, how could the Vista ever grow with so much of the 90% absentee ownership harboring such buyer remorse and indifference, apathetic to the notion of ever doing anything to help rescue the floundering development? Not if it meant sinking more money, through proposed special assessments, to fund community projects. Not even if such projects would serve to increase parcel values by making the place a more desirable one to live in and visit.
Countless lot owners had lost whatever faith they might've ever held for the development and its potential to become anything more then the chaotic, sub-standard, infrastructure-shy one it almost perversely seemed to prefer being.
Nickel and dimed
Those who opted to keep the all but unsaleable parcels despite everything (or tried to unload but couldn't), along with the latest round of new soon disillusioned owners, felt burdened with dud properties in a dead-in-the-water development. Millstones around their necks. Not another blessed cent would they fork out beyond the association's annual property assessment and county's annual property tax. As it was, the former was often only paid amid much kicking and screaming and whines of "I don't even live there or drive the roads; why should I have to pay for their upkeep?"
For what it was worth, the annual owner assessment was worlds cheaper than that of other regional rural subdivisions except perhaps next door's Juniper Valley's. When the writer arrived in the late 1970s, it was only about $20. a year. (By 2021 it would grow to $219; while having become ouchy, it was still by far among the cheapest.) No matter. They still felt nickel-and-dimed to death. Shook down for the latest assessment every fall, they no doubt felt something akin to a trailer park's mobile home owners, the structures theirs but forever having to pay rent on the space they perched on, lest they get taken away through foreclosure.
Cynics thought the whole set-up smacked of being some sort of racket.
Left for dead
Perhaps predictably, due to the many absentee parcel holders' pronounced disenchantment with the arrested development -- "left for dead" in more realtors' colorful parlance -- the association often suffered late annual assessment payments and nonpayments. Initial optimism for the place having long ago evaporated and absentee owners perhaps being allergic to the very idea of having to pony up each year on general principle, the wording on annual billing statements grew a bit testy over time. Key words in large boldface letters defied the imperious demand for payment being ignored: PAY WITHIN 30 DAYS TO AVOID SEVERE PENALTY OR FORECLOSURE. A far cry from the former lighthearted communication tenor with its spiels of carefree vacations on charmed lands. Things were taking on a decidedly hard edge. The board was grappling with keeping enough revenue coming in to cover the constant maintenance needs of 66 miles of cinder roads that would otherwise return to nature and have more angry visitors hounding them to act.
Such chilly exhortations of annual notices only seemed to encourage some to finally blow off paying altogether. "They're daring me not to pay, huh? Well, maybe I'll just take them up on that; hell, they can have the damn parcel back...worthless piece of crap; why I ever bought into this screwy lotus land it I'll never know; 'FUBAR Acres' might be a more appropriate name...mumble grumble..."
Sometimes iffy roads
As more people moved in and the endless cinder roads got more wear, the one-man road crew was increasingly unable to maintain all of them. Not anywhere up the immaculate zen standards of earlier years, which had made the roads so pleasant to drive on at a mosey while drinking in all the tranquil scenery -- and so inviting for mischievous kids to gouge deep donuts in with their dirt bikes. Regardless, one good gully-washer of a rainstorm could wash away the cinder topping and cut hazardous mini canyons in the sand underneath, especially on downhill stretches of a road, even if it had been nicely groomed just the day before.
Again, this in turn caused various owners to protest paying for roads that were obviously not being kept up -- leastwise not theirs -- the lion's share going to the most heavily trafficked. Like the most problematic, the steep quarter-mile uphill stretch of Perla Road in the front of section 13; it could routinely gobble thousands of dollars a year to maintain. Sparsely settled and non-settled regions might not see the road truck for a decade or more -- and then often only because some visiting owner who'd driven hundreds of miles to vacation on their more remote parcel got stuck in deep sand on the home stretch and was forced to call a tow truck. Rightly furious, they held the association board's feet to the fire, demanding they cover the tow bill. This at last would bestir the board to address some of the more seriously neglected roads in the woebegone realm's least visited hinterlands, eventually raising the annual assessment fee to cover the increased work load and rising material prices.
Problems like these didn't exactly make for happy campers.
This in dramatic contrast to the first visiting owners, who'd relished camping on their lands and the many who'd later move onto them with infectious high spirits. It was, of course, during the extraordinary "God is alive, magic is afoot" time of the late '60s-early '70s. A time when waves of euphoria might wash over one out of nowhere, even if your only drug of choice was aspirin or a good stiff martini.
Raise high the roof beam, carpenters
As mentioned, many Vista lots were fairly pristine. Some bore old rotting stumps from lumberman Abner Weed’s harvesting the area’s mature timber in the early twentieth century. And bulldozing needed to make the new networks of roads marred the front of some lands. (The KRCE development was born similarly, recycling tree-harvested lands into rec lots to solitude-hungry city folk.) But many parcels, largely left undisturbed for ages, were part of a rich, fragile high-desert woodlands ecosystem. They felt enchanted to any who appreciated their subtle charms, those who didn't always need towering trees and crystal streams in order to embrace nature. The land held inviting groves of mature junipers, furry green lichen growing on shaded rocks, riots of tiny colorful wildflowers in spring and early summer, occasional stands of pines, and dramatic rock outcroppings, sometimes perched on by mountain lions on the lookout for the small deer parties that occasionally meandered through.
All lent select areas something of a rarefied atmosphere: it could feel like the place where time stood still.
Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, profound quietude and a giddy sense of freedom for being in such secluded back country, reigned over by the majestic mountain...all combined to inspire psyched repeat vacation visits from afar. Enough to eventually move some to want to permanently chuck city living and retire here to enjoy the tranquility and seclusion of country living full-time. Thus, in the late sixties and early seventies the place had briefly become something of a respectable Shangri-la to every nature-loving retiree making the leap and having the bucks to build to their accustomed lifestyle level (happily, more or less dovetailing with the stringent health and building code requirements).
Legend had it that the very earliest comers in the late sixties -- among them one building on White Drive, another on Heinzelman Drive -- hadn't even needed building permits to construct their simple cabin and full-on home, respectively. Code enforcement had yet to establish a foothold in the more remote hinterlands of our sparsely settled county. If true, this maybe set a precedent energetically for subsequent owner-builders to feel they needed only their own permission to build on their remote lots. And the building department was then stuck forever playing catch-up, saying in effect, "Hey, you really do need a permit now...no, we mean it. Seriously..."
No more sketchy subdivisions
Between 1970 and 1972, California passed a flurry of landmark regulations covering future subdivision formations.
“...[A] new attitude of comprehensive planning and environmental protection emerged,” noted realty attorney James Longtin. The Vista barely got in under the wire before vast regulatory changes would make it impossible to any longer spin out such bare-bones, quick-buck, often problematic rural developments.
From then on, developers were required to make legally binding commitments to provide all basic infrastructure...plus, over time, they or owner association directors had to spring for public improvements like parks, playgrounds and community centers. It seemed that our place, though grandfathered in under the earlier lax requirements, came to feel intense pressure from the county -- in turn under the gun of the state -- whenever a law-abiding owner wanted to build an approved shelter on their one-time campground parcel.
As related, would-be Vistan homesteaders were made to jump through all kinds of complicated, time-consuming, expensive hoops to earn the right to live on their lots...the first and perhaps most daunting being, before anything else, bringing in an approved well...often a fairly deep one...sometimes a really deep one...and hitting water... hopefully good water. Plus, often having to pay a small fortune to get electrical lines strung to one's property.
Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere?
To build or not build community
Maybe county officials had crossed their fingers, hoping there'd never be any who, for some strange reason, actually wanted to live on such raw, bone-dry lots out in the middle of nowhere. For each new building permit okay-ed would mean several long time-consuming drives to inspect and sign off each of numerous completion stages. They had better things to do.
Jumping ahead decades now, residents had better things to do than foster dubious community. Polarized energies discouraged it at every turn. Bowling alone was in, anyhow. More people seemed to move here expressly to do their own thing and be left the hell alone: hermits united (or disunited). They'd at most often only reluctantly try working together. A visit to a monthly board meeting, where the place's often buzz-saw contentious dysfunctionality was on full display, could offer a fast cure for anyone with some misbegotten notion to try plugging in to help the place along.
Any vision beyond the usual volunteer fire department and rummage sales and such to support it, maybe seeking a grant to fund making the area safer from wildfires, often just didn’t seem to go with the dirt-cheap lots with their near-zero infrastructure. One paid dearly for the added features in more developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, gas, sewage, security, fire department... When you bought land cheap, expectations of community were low to nonexistent. Some people bought here expressly because it lacked any more sense of community.
Not so Vista’s cash-rich, starry-eyed pioneers of yore. Bewitched by the region’s allure during simpler times, enough to invest their time, fortunes and fondest hopes, they were stoked at the prospect of working together to carve out a nice rustic retirement community for themselves and any others interested in mustering into their emerging, thoroughly respectable enclave. It was an embryonic rural hideaway sanctuary, far from the madding crowd. As a song lyric went, they wanted to believe they were “...going where the living is easy and the people are kind."
Kind of something, anyhow, as it turned out.
The Vista Thru Time
Further reflections on the singular
one-time vacation resort's first 50 years
vs. "up the drawbridge!"
Many new Vista residents felt blessed. Swept up in the joy of service and the grand pioneering adventure of it all and living in the bosom of nature, they were eager to share their good fortune. They'd offer cheerful assistance with new arrivals whenever they could, wanting to see the fledgling backwoods community grow and flourish. Each new denizen of the sparse backwoods settlement was potentially a valuable addition.
Often these more altruistic souls were residents of homes whose original inhabitants had moved on once the thrill of Vista living had evaporated. Newcomers hadn't experienced their ordeals of complying with onerous health and building codes only to have others blatantly ignore them, or the blatant vandalism by irate locals. They were more in the moment, relaxed, live-and-let-live, sometimes even inviting one to share an afternoon 'drinky-poo' on a shady porch.
Not so others, mostly the first wave of residents. Strictly law and order adherents, their spirit was far less egalitarian. They'd wanted to pull up the drawbridge. They erected huge snarly warning signs everywhere, determined to keep the riff-raff out. They’d majorly bank on Siskiyou county residential-code enforcement, whose public-service staff salaries their property taxes paid for, to duly protect their rural outpost from getting overrun by misguided souls thinking they could invade their would-be respectable wilderness paradise on the cheap and get away with it...especially revved-up younger folks of threadbare means...most especially pot-smoking hippies and beer-guzzling bikers they thought they'd left behind in the cities.
They knew such lot buyers and would-be settlers would be worlds away from ever embracing their convention-locked, law-abiding, retiring ways and so would prove ruinous to the nice, tightly structured. law-abiding order of things. So they took on a sea of trouble. With flinty, full-court determination they demanded every property holder earn the right to live on the land, just as they had, by damn. They too had to first meet all health and building code requirements no matter the cost, time or effort. If you couldn't afford it or simply didn't want to go down that path, well, the place was obviously not for you.
So when various and sundry started moving in on the cheap despite their best efforts to deter, they lost it, sailing clear around the bend. Such pretenders to the realm -- erecting permanent tents, pulling in derelict mobile homes and building tumbledown structures and hanging their hats, figuring they were home -- left them fit to be tied. The brazen newcomers, in turn, appeared either oblivious or indifferent to what the few scattered, now foaming at the mouth, residents thought of their sudden presence. It was, "Mind your own business and I'll mind mine and we'll get along fine." Many clearly didn't seem at all concerned over the county ordinances they were ignoring, or they were in blissful ignorance of them. It seemed being out in the middle of nowhere on secluded cheap land dulled one's perception to feel the need to conform to such bureaucratic nonsense.
The growling No this, No that, No the other thing signs were dismissed as mostly bluff. Newcomers went their merry way, "doing their own thing" -- a popular watch phrase of the rebellious countercultural era, becoming more so with each passing year as people left behind the former times' fading over-rigid law-and-order mindset...or tried to.
Whenever being rudely reminded otherwise by unpleasant confrontations with dutifully compliant residents gone nuclear, or summoned, all-business county code enforcers, it did little to make them ever want to comply, even if they could afford to. The firstcomers bent into veritable pretzels in their desperate struggle to preserve their La-la-land-ish, country club enclave from rack and ruin, had such a zero tolerance for the scofflaw newcomers trying to invade their domain that more free-minded land buyers, scoping their over-wound mindset, were instantly radicalized. They'd say, screw 'em, we'll take our chances.
While it was all most unfortunate, it was the way it was. The modern day pioneers -- those who'd diligently crossed every 't' and crossed every 'i', making substantial investments in time, money and sweat -- had established residency requirements they fully expected every future would-be resident of Mt. Shasta Vista to likewise follow. Soon it seemed such rules might as well not even exist.
Almost overnight, their one-time safe-haven backwoods retirement community was turning into its own madding crowd.
Not all were brazen scofflaws, of course. Some of lesser means were still more or less law abiding. They nurtured hopes of living their own simpler version of idyllic country living but were simply badly informed. While they had no actual intent to try to buck the system per se, their fondest dreams were soon dashed to smithereens once receiving an antagonized 'unwelcome wagon', neighbors-from-hell visit by a delegation of overbearing hardasses who swoop down on them out out of nowhere and read them the riot act.
Others, thicker skinned and less concerned with complying or rendering unto Caesar in general, dug in and kicked back hard. One time a unsanctioned neighbor with such pronounced combative tendencies had just been given his walking papers. He responded by one day spotting the current board president driving about and then aggressively tailgating him for miles along otherwise empty back roads, sticking to him like glue. While the man was no doubt alarmed, maybe even terrorized, if looking into his rearview and realizing he'd somehow gained the ire of a crazed madman, some might say he was only reaping what he and earlier board members had sown by their extreme, zero tolerance stance.
Home in the country
By the early to mid 1970s, after the first wave or two of settlers had settled following the few late sixties' early birds, a sprinkling of maybe thirty or so year-round, mostly compliant residences were dotting the landscape. While the code defiant had yet to gain a substantial foothold, momentum was growing. The genie was out of the bottle about cheap Mt. Shasta region land. Various and sundry were about to leap at the chance to make the Vista’s sprawling juniper boonies their home, too. In the bigger picture, the notion of not just visiting but actually living in nature was taking off. “Head for the hills, brothers!” was the clarion call as more and more city-weary, nature-hungry souls of all sorts would join the back-to-the-land movement, about to ratchet into high gear.
As serious interest grew in making an exodus from city living, the Vista gained something of the air of a time-release Oklahoma land rush. In leaps and bounds, excited new arrivals of all stripes were settling in. Or trying to. With the place having no master plan, each was winging it, flying blind on arrival to their snapped-up bargain lot. The land was soon experiencing fitful frenzied bursts of shelter construction, some still to code, but most now definitely not; industrious sounds of hammering and whining circular saws flooded the air. Writer guesstimates that by the mid to late seventies, maybe sixty to eighty residences of varying degrees of ambition and legitimacy were sprinkled among the remote juniper and sage high desert woodlands.
Those opting to ignore code requirements, playing it by ear in the mad scramble, were intent on getting a toehold established while the getting was good. It was always much harder trying to tell someone they couldn't be there once they'd built a shelter, moved in, fenced off their property and posted No Trespassing signs.
It was territoriality writ large.
With so many hypnotized by the land once it grabbed them, eclipsing any more practical concerns, a strange wonderland at increasing variance with mundane realities was emerging...despite the dedicated efforts of the core of code-compliant residents going berserk in their frantic efforts to reverse the alarming trend.
It's unknown if some of the heavily invested first wave ever gave thought to trying to get the CC&Rs revised by some law firm. Conceivably this might've enabled an orderly growth into a standard community, one in which things were spelled out so each would-be resident fully knew the score. Before doing anything more than visit, one would realize they had to bring in an approved well (or share one with up to three adjacent residents); pay to have power lines extended if need be; and install an approved septic system -- all before becoming eligible to apply for a building permit -- and afterwards conform to exhaustive health and building code requirements. This was the accepted reality of places like nearby Lake Shastina (and, of course, most any city). Not so the Vista. The procedure would've assured the place established a solid footing and thus remained a 'respectable', law-abiding community that might've in time gained the at least grudging respect of the surrounding community.
A moot point. With 98% of the property owners absentee, living all over the nation, many by now nursing serious buyer remorse, actual Vista residents would've realized they'd never muster the needed two-thirds vote to tackle such a monumental and costly legal re-structuring. And heck, they were retirees anyhow; their days of heavy lifting were done once their living structures were built.
A more cynical view might've held that the founders, while realizing constructing full-on homes amid a sea of raw vacation parcels was bound to create certain thorny problems down the road, just didn't care. They had theirs, for whatever remained of their time left on earth; let the chips fall where they may. They'd earned it, by golly, after a lifetime of hard work and then conforming to every last nit-picky, pricey legal residency requirement. Not unreasonably, they relied on enforcement of the county ordinances to keep things copacetic. Their attitude was, again, "Too bad if you can't afford to live here and build to code like we did, but the law's the law." Then later, while still loaded for bear even while realizing the system was spectacularly failing them, "And if we can't get you out, we'll at least be damn sure to make your lives a living hell."
For better or worse, the emerging neither-this-nor-that place was left 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 residents aspired the Vista to become (if anything). Each among the more dominant and involved current inhabitants advanced notions of how the place should be. They tried convincing others it was the best way or the only way to go. The situation was maybe not unlike excited kids building sandcastles on the seashore...until high tide rushes in and erases even their most ambitious efforts. Then, later, new castles are built by others likewise unmindful of the next high tide. Or like creating an image on an Etch-a-Sketch, then with a flick of the wrist even the most elaborate designs being shaken away, returning the screen to its blank state.
While homebuilding efforts ostensibly fell within the bounds of county, state and federal authority -- which ordinances and codes the development and its eventual co-owners were legally obliged to conform to as conditions for the place being greenlit -- these were never easy to enforce by the sparsely populated county's undermanned staff tasked with oversight. A tiny dwelling amid the sprawling, 66-mile labyrinth of private unpaved roads out in the middle of nowhere was not easy to track...or be aware of even existing, short of pouring over satellite photos (which became an accepted method for the county to tax land improvements). Unless, as it happened, livid code-compliant residents burned up the phone lines reporting every last noncompliance infraction and demanding swift response.
It was a tall order. With the heady sense of freedom living in such secluded back-country enclave lent newly rusticating dwellers, compliant and outlaw alike -- often no one living within a quarter mile or more -- something of a pronounced libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit had emerged. Especially among the more free-spirited, minimalist lifestyle baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of earlier waves, felt irresistibly pulled to the mountain. They'd discover the plentiful, dirt-cheap parcels for sale in the sleepy buyer's market as more and more property holders cut their losses and shook loose of what turned out to be the worst investment they ever had the sorry misfortune to get involved in.
Parcels were a dime a dozen. Eager buyers didn't stop to wonder too much why they were going so cheap. It maybe struck them as being one of the last few bargain land deals around, and they'd simply been lucky enough to discover them.
Doing your own thing
The free-wheeling spirit of some might’ve been fine had the place from the start built a solid foundation of infrastructure support and appropriate CC&Rs. But it didn't. Cheap land really could create cheap intentions. The place's recreational use had run its course and the disparate crowd of instant homesteaders now pouring in were clearly bent on going their own way and being left alone. Certainly few, if any, bought into the de facto retirement community's rigid mindset of how things should be. During the radical late '60s to early '70s, as different ages, headspaces, lifestyles, incomes, awareness levels, land-use intents and respect for the rule of law were all thrown together into the giant cookie-cutter wilderness of a primitive subdivision, it often seemed the only common ground ever cultivated was agreeing to disagree with each other.
The unwillingness of many to ever build to code that, more than anything, became the deal breaker preventing the place from ever segueing into a standard community. The ensuing rebellion from such perceived-as-oppressive codes would tear to shreds the place's threadbare social fabric and embryonic community sense, sparking a long pitched battle between the dutifully compliant and merrily rebellious. The former viewed the latter as illegal residents deserving the bum's rush; the latter viewed the former as uptight power trippers with too much money and a serious need to chill.
But all factors had combined to make for a place so festering with irreconcilable differences, within and without, that it seemed it never had a ghost of a chance. A place built on such shaky footing -- lacking water, electricity and supporting CC&Rs; 'What codes?' attitudes, and an overwhelmed county's inability and/or unwillingness to better enforce them; a place rife with contentious energies aimed at it by embittered locals, an abiding resentment it even existed being baked into the place's inception...all factors seemed to guarantee that whatever elusive hopes civic minded residents and property holders held over time to turn the place around were doomed six ways to Sunday.
The board: hardball with a vengeance
Reflecting, sometimes magnifying, the place's many woes was the owner association's member elected board of directors. Formed to fulfill the ongoing needs of the nonprofit public-benefit corporation -- mostly road maintenance -- it was required by the state to meet monthly and was composed six volunteer elected members, each serving staggered two-year terms. Since all members had to live in approved structures to be eligible, the board naturally led the charge in declaring war on noncompliance to try saving the fledgling backwoods community from going to utter wrack and ruin.
Universal health and building code compliance was also critical if a legal resident decided to move on and wanted to sell their place at a decent price. Once realizing the ship was sinking, their outrage was magnified for touching the money nerve. They knew they'd lose out on getting any decent return after all their hard work and expense in creating such full-on legal residences in the now often-sketchy neighborhoods.
Infuriated board members, reporting the ongoing flurries of violations, determined to bust anyone and everyone not in strict code compliance, created for the Vista a stony legacy of scorched-earth overreach and hardball action. Building a fence without a permit? Report the bugger. In the course of such efforts, they alienated everyone who hadn't made a similar investment to comply. Or even sometimes those who had bought compliant homes and soon had misgivings for moving into such a disaster area where it seemed normal for everyone to be constantly gnashing their teeth. For decades the place experienced what was in effect practically a mini reign of terror. Various board members went about with balls out ruthlessness, doing their damnedest to try stamping out the plague infesting the one-time law abiding backwoods enclave.
Such intolerance made the place more than a tad less desirable to live in. It doubtless scared off even your like-minded, would-be-code-compliant owner-builders from settling on hearing war stories from spitting-mad residents, or getting grimaces and rolled eyes from health and building department workers the second they mentioned the place's dread name.
While time ultimately proved the code conformity battle a lost cause, a whack-a-mole effort that did little in the long run to stem the rising tide of scofflaw building, it was long a cause celebre -- "the law's the law" -- a hardline stance that swept up everyone into the fray or tried to. There were no innocent bystanders. Those who refused to take a stand -- "Sorry, we didn't move out here to get mixed up in any local politics" -- were scorned as do-nothing enablers and so part of the problem.
The enforcement system they'd depended was failing them miserably. It had allowed barbarians to storm the gates -- and stay. Again, shocked over their shattered dream once regulating efforts came up so short, they came to take certain grim satisfaction in exacting a pound of flesh from every transgressor they discovered, threatening dire consequences if they didn't toe the now faint line. Even when they knew such threats were becoming mostly empty ones, they must've felt expressing open hostility might serve to make at least some feel so unwelcome they'd want to start packing, just to get away from such neighbors from hell (most of whom lived miles away).
Indeed, a few of your more unwitting transgressors, having no stomach for such ugly confrontations, promptly gave up and moved on, disillusioned and devastated. Some, who knew they'd probably been courting trouble, left mumbling, "Oh, well, worth a try." Yet others, having thicker skins and more combative natures, dug in hard and escalated right along with the enforcers, daring them to do their damnedest. They'd fence off their places and post their own gnarly signs. One of the more chilling: underneath a cross-hairs symbol the words "Warning. You're now within range." Others actually seemed to enjoy taunting the enforcement crowd; it was some strange cat-and-mouse game that gave them something to do.
There was yet another reason for the compliant having manned the battle stations, Klaxon horns blaring to wake the dead. Being a nonprofit mutual benefit common interest corporation, the Vista's board of directors was legally mandated by the state to make a good-faith effort to have association members abide by county, state, and federal codes, laws and ordinances. A tall order. Technically, they could be held liable for neglecting proper enforcement efforts. Board members could conceivably be sued.
As if to show there could be no doubt they weren't shirking their duties, the board members reported each and every infraction their ongoing diligent searches uncovered.
Short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, the place had been, again, fully at the mercy of county authorities to keep things on track...or, once that boat had sailed, to try making things right again. With the board having no legal enforcement powers, as taxpayers they had demanded the stretched-thin county enforcement agencies address the out-of-control problem and return the realm to 100% code compliance. What good were laws if not enforced?
Failing that, at least it'd all be on them. (And then maybe they'd get sued.)
While each land buyer signed an agreement to abide by governmental laws, regulations and ordinances on purchasing of their parcel, it was naturally buried in a boilerplate sea of legaleeze fine print. As mentioned, beyond the more flagrant law breakers of latter times were those who, in the rush to pursue their elusive dreams of tranquil country living, had remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that they'd ever agreed to any such thing. They were shocked then, when told, often with fire-breathing intensity, how you couldn't do this or this, and don't you even think of doing that. People started to feel foolish and misguided for having settled in what had at first seemed such a delightful, charming, affordable place to live simply but for some strange reason had given new meaning to the expression, 'going off the deep end.'
It radicalized one against the local powers that be in a heartbeat.
The more cash-strapped, instant-sanctuary sort of newcomers only knew they'd snagged an affordable piece of rural California, and they were psyched to do their own thing on it, be left alone come hell or high water. Maybe over time they'd try for a well; maybe not. They'd connect with kindred souls who would right away advise them, "Just ignore the board; I do -- hell, everyone does; it's a toothless tiger, just a buncha retired power-freak busybodies with nothing better to do than try telling others how to live. Screw 'em and the horses they rode in on."
The very nature of any good-sized rural subdivision, its crazy-quilt of lots tucked away out in the boonies, could often be problematic by its very nature, even with supporting infrastructure and CC&Rs. While it enabled any so inclined to buy a bit of rural land affordably -- rather than going bust shelling out for, say, some pricey stand-alone 20, 40 or 80 acre parcel and then have to deal with road access and maintenance on their lonesome -- the hidden costs could be steep indeed. One found themselves living with a potluck assortment of strangers concentrated together in the middle of nowhere and mandated by law to cooperate, yet isolated from the high-density town and city lifestyle that made the same plethora of rules and regulations feel normal. Now it felt intolerably oppressive.
It was that same crowded, super-regulated urban reality that many had wanted to get away from and led them here in the first place.
Sharing the fantasy
The fact that people wanted their own land where they could live closer to nature and be a more respectable distance from one another made it difficult to warm up to the reality of others sharing the land them, despite a far thinner density than your typical urban scene. While you often couldn't see another house from your property, lending the illusion you maybe had the whole area all to yourself, everyone for better or worse was inextricably bound together by the legal structure and its sundry edicts. Again, it was like the bureaucratic city mindset was surreally being superimposed on the untamed countryside. As a result, thinking that the place offered independent country living could sometimes seem little more than a cruel illusion.
Steve Doktor, a late neighbor whose manner of speech bore a striking resemblance to actor Sam Elliot, once told the writer with his usual droll humor, "People need to learn to share the fantasy." While many could feel like they owned maybe 20 or 40 acres or had at the least had one heck of a buffer zone surrounding their parcels, they needed to allow others to enjoy the same sense by being considerate and mindful of their well being needs as well as their own. Otherwise, the potential for ceaseless territorial squabbling and indifference to the rights of others could result in a chaotic, wild-frontier climate that ruined it for everyone.
The Vista's laundry list of neighborhood grievances often appeared formidable.
Between barking dogs, roving packs of same, discharging firearms, blasting stereos, gunning vehicle engines, driving too fast and/or recklessly, vandalizing and stealing road signs, burning toxic materials in backyards rather than hauling them to the dump; tree poaching epidemics; juvenile dirt bikers roaring about on devices loud as chainsaws, tearing through the unfenced lots of absentee owners; epidemic roadside littering and flagrant garbage dumping, letting winds blow one's property detritus to the four corners with zero concern over degrading the environment... Between all of these there was always something to raise one's hackles.
In sheer exasperation, residents kept complaining to the largely powerless board, but mostly to no avail. And to county authorities, who in turn were often so caught up in the swamp of slow bureaucratic procedure and reflecting an older populace's set rural ways that they themselves might also feel powerless -- and/or disinclined -- to work to try resolving the place's plague of problems...or, among the more benumbed and burned out on elected public service, be practiced in the art of the two-step avoidance dance in response to constituents' wails of "Can't you do something?!" It seemed the buck never stopped anywhere, but instead circled endlessly: "Well, unfortunately there's not a lot we can do"; "Sorry, but it's not my problem"; "You see, it's complicated"; "You might give Neighborhood Watch another go"; "You could try suing"...
Beyond the certain element in local government hostile or indifferent to the Vista's plight, possibly it wasn't so much supervisors and code enforcers not caring per se as it was the county's rural population embracing such a relaxed, stand-alone country lifestyle. Some in government beyond law enforcement simply seemed to lack the disposition and inclination that one cultivated living in more stress-filled urban climates to grab the bull by the horns and confront the thorny problems routinely faced by residents living out in the boonies that were so often eroding the charm of country living.
And, critically, they depended on the vast majority of residents being law-abiding citizens. The rural county just didn't have the public treasure to enforce its own ordinances should enough -- for whatever reason -- chose to ignore them.
If that happened, they could be in deep doo-doo.
The Vista Through Time
1965 - 2015
Subdivisions were not organic settlements;
no community center
For anyone whose imagination could sometimes take a surreal bent, it might've seemed that the state, in approving such rural subdivisions, which each county then dealt with, was perhaps employing social scientists to conduct some sort of weird social lab experiment: they wanted to know how long and how many strangers could live together in the middle of nowhere and deal with various state-imposed mandates before it drove them all nuts. "Hey guys, I think we might have a new contender here."
Most people moved to the country for peace and quiet...to enjoy fresh air and quietude, to live more simply and be left the hell alone. They didn't want to deal with any blasted bureaucratic mandates and so did their level best to ignore them, even if the downside was possibly encouraging an infusion of scofflaw elements attracted to the place as a promising hideaway in good part for its lax structure. Some might say the word 'subdivision' itself handicapped such developments from thriving, the very word sounding, well, so divisive.
Historically, when a settlement was founded by one or a party, it often evolved slowly; there was an organic process at work. New residents gained a sense of belonging and measure of empowerment and engagement within a gradually growing community in which they each played a role. The Vista, in stark contrast, was founded by a realtor who lived over six hundred miles away. He had every last bit of land cookie-cutter-platted into 1,641 lots before the first buyer ever set foot on one. It was his creation, such as it was, designed and aspiring to be no more than shared recreational parcels. So, when it later began informally seguing into an actual, would-be community, residential growth was chaotic. It lacked -- forget infrastructure -- any crucial cohesive growth guidelines, self-determination or abiding pride of a 'home-grown' community.
Vista's iffy situation was made iffier yet by various one-time residents over time leasing out their residences after the charm of Vista living began evaporating. Such renters had zero say in how the place was run as far as board eligibility, even if in time one might've felt a strong vested interest and wanted to get involved and help the place along. At least more than simply joining the volunteer fire department or doing fundraisers for it.
The problem, again, was ridiculously exacerbated by the legion of disinterested absentee parcel owners who long constituted over 90% of the association's membership, dwarfing the number of actual residents. They held equal voting power on any proposal. To many of the speculative it was nothing but a gone-sour investment, one in which they'd gladly pull the plug and sell the second they got a half-way decent offer. In the meantime they'd scream over every cent of annual due increase, right along with the many residents who had themselves also become mostly indifferent to the outlandish notion of lifting a finger (beyond the middle one) to ever help out the wilderness condo gone wacky.
Professional management in time hired by the volunteer board was supposed to take care of things since parcel holders were paying its salary. But things had gone so wrong so long, many felt there was nothing anyone could do other than nurse along the wobbly operation and hope for the best. Cynics included long-established parties who had their own social scene wired, thank you, and were all too well aware how the cards were stacked against the place ever becoming an actual functional community. They'd reject as naive, if well-meant, the pipe dreams of those who wanted to try pulling the place together. Cynicism ran so deep, 'hope' was a four-letter word.
In time, most everyone realized that the Vista was taking the meaning of 'dysfunctional' to a whole new level.
A prime example how endemic the lack of any civic-minded spirit could be: One day in the 1990's, dozens of unwanted-orange, plastic bagged phone books had been dropped off below the mailbox complex -- or pushed off the box top to the ground by an irate resident -- at the busy Juniper Drive entrance. While it created an eyesore for everyone driving by, for over a month no one bothered to deal with it. This disbelieving writer (who didn't live in that part) held off, waywardly fascinated by such monumental indifference. (Finally I gathered them up and recycled them.) No doubt many had grumbled to themselves that someone should clean those up, but of course never thinking to be that someone. They perhaps got a perverse rush raking the board over the coals for being so discombobulated that it couldn't even deal with such a simple matter.
A more far-reaching example: In 1981, association members shot down the proposal made by then board president Eric Prescott. He'd envisioned the Vista building a modest multi-use community center on one of the hundreds of empty lots for the mutual benefit of every resident and owner-visitor, at a time when the place was really starting to grow. Even though it would’ve only involved a modest extra assessment for two years to fund, the project cost being spread out among so many parcel owners, and undoubtedly would’ve benefited myriad parcel holders over time, fostering a comforting sense of community and therefore likely increasing lot values for the sea of absentee land holders, the owner majority, blinders on, chorused their favorite refrain: "Not One Cent More!"
As mentioned elsewhere, many embraced the persistent fond illusion that once they'd bought the land, except for annual property taxes (some no doubt not even aware of that) they were home free. So they took strong exception to having to feed the parking meter, as it were, every year for road maintenance on roads that most never even drove on, lest their property get towed away by the Mt. Shasta Vista Property Owners Association for resale to the next clueless buyer.
Not that there weren't also absentee owners who, despite all, treasured the land. They held elusive hopes its promising early beginnings might somehow re-blossom in time. But such hope faced the constant headwinds of a hopelessness born of the long-entrenched indifference of the majority. They no doubt entertained wistful notions of moving here someday once it somehow, finally, miraculously, got itself together and redeemed itself -- or perhaps even as-is and hoping for the best. And a few others still enjoyed periodic camping retreats on the more secluded retreat properties located far from busy arteries and the established homes clustered along the few power lines, both often relatively close to the blacktop.
But it seemed the overwhelming majority -- jaded residents and disillusioned absentee owners alike -- had grown increasingly apathetic to the notion of the place ever being anything but terminally out of kilter. That is, if it meant one more penny being pried from their wallet or purse. There was obviously no hope for such a basket case.
Some doubtless thought a portion of their annual assessment could surely go towards funding whatever civic improvements the more community-minded thought might help the place along. But the budget was almost always stretched to the breaking point over the high cost of maintaining the 66 miles of fragile cinder roads. Plus, the board was repossessing parcels that couldn't be resold readily and so their annual county property taxes were covered by the association, further eating into any available funds. Then there were vandalized or stolen road signs needing frequent replacement (back when that was still done in an at least semi timely manner). And skyrocketing insurance rates. And thorny legal matters with potential lawsuits requiring keeping a pricey attorney on retainer. And...
Disinterested association managers &
board presidents with conflicts of interest
In the 1980s, the association started shelling out for the annual salary of a professional association manager. Things had gotten too complicated and time-consuming for volunteer board members alone. Most were too unversed in legal matters to grasp the intricate procedures of running the development according to Hoyle once the state legislature in 1985 enacted a flurry of new regulations for subdivisions known as the Davis Stirling Act.
But it would add insult to injury when, over time, such salaried managers (we've had two) -- whom residents might not unreasonably assume would work for the good of the place, helping preserve the Vista's relaxed livability and keeping residents' best interests at heart -- themselves speculated on lots. Or worse, actually brokered lot sales by serving as a realty agent on the side, eventually to parties obviously intent on turning said tranquil lifestyle upside down and inside out seven ways from Sunday.
And while some, maybe even most, board presidents kept the well-being of the residency in mind, balanced with the valid concerns of dominant absentee parcel holders, one (who shall remain nameless), was part of a realty effort aggressively working to move parcels for commission fees. (It was later to ramp up and exploit the frustration of hundreds of stuck property holders by mounting what became a wildly successful campaign, making a bundle by recycling parcels to buyers with expedient intentions.) She had long held the right of a property owner to do with their lot whatever they wante trumped any consideration for the well-being of the community as a whole.
Though the development was technically a nonprofit public benefit corporation, at time there was such a callous for-profit, make-money-anyway-you-can-off-the-lame-ass-parcels hustle by various self-interested parties, it beggared belief. It made for-profits look like pikers.
No there there
Many residents, having low expectations going in, accepted the fact there wasn't any more there there. Nothing beyond the trees and sage and simple roads and signs. Maybe even relieved, as it suited some just fine. Various parties used the place as a temporary perch, planning to move on when and if something better came along. Again, to the thinking of many, trying to foster community involvement seemed to hold too much negative potential for becoming an intrusive force. One spearheaded by a bunch of bored, power-hungry busybodies hellbent on trying to tell others how to live. Any virtuous cycle that now and then emerged by determined well-meaning board members was soon enough swallowed by the prevailing overwhelming civic indifference.
Many people the wayward realm attracted seemed far from your conventional sort. They'd moved here to get as far away from over-complicated, peace-eroding bureaucratic urban forces as possible, yet still not be too far from town. As a late section 13 Pilar Road resident, then president of the Siskiyou Arts Council, said of the place during a public radio interview, "We live out in the middle of nowhere and we love it!"
Those who'd dutifully conformed to code requirements, or bought places that had, ostensibly had the peace of mind with which to enjoy them for being dutifully law abiding. But even those who hadn't and were hunkering down hopefully under radar seemed to feel they had the same inviolable right to enjoy their parcels any way they chose and not get hassled -- possession, after all, being nine-tenths of the law -- even while ignoring any laws and ordinances that didn't strike their fancy and seemed unlikely to be effectively enforced anyhow.
Handy place to perch
The Vista, an arrested recreational subdivision that spectacularly failed to segue into any stripe of 'normal' community, being an embarrassment of empty lots, in deed struck all kinds of burnouts from urban living as a nice place to perch. Cheap and remote, but not too remote. The compliant among them could enjoy simple stand-alone country living while the non-compliant could more than likely get away with not conforming to codes, maybe suffering singed feathers at worst. Both paid the mandatory annual dues (usually) and as an idle pastime enjoyed demonizing the volunteer board as the source of all ills. With a shortsightedness the place seemed to cultivate, it was THE fly in the ointment preventing carefree country living.
The most cynical felt the board setup was bogus. Probably illegal. Corrupt as hell, anyhow. "Someone oughta sue", "Why I ever moved here...", "This place would be just fine if it weren't for...", "They can't do that, can they?", ad infinitum. Unfounded idle rumors of board members dipping into the treasury were rife.
Though such gnarly energies weren't always evident, it could often feel that way. There were in fact respites, pleasant lulls when the dread fire-breathing beast of contention appeared to slumber. During such times -- especially during magical spring weather -- a peaceful, laid-back spirit could prevail over a land that seemed blessed with an innate tranquility. Grateful denizens relished their solitude amid such sunshiny, largely unspoiled nature. A tenuous live-and-let-live attitude almost seemed to prevail, residents so used to the place being maladjusted it felt normal.
Perennial joker in the deck
While there was something that made everyone feel like king or queen of their own regal, rustic, wild realm, their own little backwoods hideaway bought for a song, one had to continually tune out the joker in the deck: the never-ending battle over code compliance. It could make said royalty feel more like rebellious serfs living under the yoke of would-be oppressive overlords who'd met county legal residency requirements and so were duly vested in relentlessly trying to maintain strict law and order -- sometimes succeeding, sometimes coming off like Barney Fife.
Alas, this joker, like a rude Jack-in-the-box, kept on popping up to crimp the lives of the non-complying dwellers during the long intolerable years, which roughly spanned between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s. While domains tucked furthest out on the endless back roads often had so few inhabitants they might've imagined their digs more like pioneer homesteads of yore rather than any dratted modern-day subdivision parcels subject to a slew of nit-picky, spirit-stifling rules and regulations, the latter sooner or later showed up to put a decided damper in one's day.
Some (certainly not all) board members and their cohorts, their fondest hopes for the place in hopeless tatters and, consequently, their minds unhinged and drunk on the limited powers being a board member bestowed, could run amok like so many little T-Rexes. They tried wielding a ruthless authority over the domain with their barred teeth and razor claws, intent on terrorizing any hapless inhabitant with the unmitigated gall to try living in their realm without first earning the right.
Fast forward and the latest board members, though still hostile to all the non-compliant in their midst, seemed to become more or less semi-resigned to suffering a seemingly unsolvable situation. Board meeting members and attendees, many deeply mindful of the Shangri-la lost, could sink into a why-bother, profoundly depressed mindset during operations. But, oddly enough, even with its once iron authority now rusting away, residents often still felt you couldn't do diddly-squat without first getting the board's approval and then grow old waiting for it. ("Matter tabled til next month, yawn; motion for adjournment?") The same if one wanted to start a new volunteer service to help the place out.
At a meeting held in then-president Bonnie Jolly's living room, the writer had volunteered to become an unpaid custodian for the subdivision to deal with the epidemic of road litter despoiling the roadsides. Though they thought it a good idea and voted me into the position, it was a strange experience. It was like they were sleepwalking. They didn't bother to address any details of the post, like supplying trash bags, or reimbursement for any dump fees. Nothing. I 'quit' my post before I started, knowing I needn't say anything to anyone, for their hearts simply weren't in it. Burned out volunteering to be on the board and used to receiving only grief for their public service, they wanted only to cover routine, calling-it-in matters like road maintenance. (I'd continue gathering road litter on my own, as did a few others likewise concerned.)
The way board members too often possessed a tired, oppressed, no-can-do air of despair, some residents tuned out their very existence and tackled things as they saw fit on their own. Like setting right a road sign that had been struck and was precariously listing or fallen, or repairing a stretch of road in front of their place rather than wait months going through sluggish official channels.
Apathy and a sense of hopelessness in the place was so chronic, at times it felt like we were a half-sunken ship with barely the will left to keep bailing water and keep from going clear under.
Jumping back again to the earlier intolerant years... Despite a seemingly gone-bonkers board throwing its weight around and on constant red alert, remote circumstances had still somehow lent a tenuous assurance one could do (or should be able to do) whatever they wanted on their land. No uptight board, lacking credibility and legal fining power and not garnering viable enforcement support from the county, could stop them.
Private-property rights were sacrosanct, after all. With more scofflaw dwellers blocking from mind the reality of being part of any external world's rules and regulations, the mundane reality of requiring an elected board of directors to take care of business just didn't register. It felt too invasive, too arbitrary, too self-defeating to the very reason many people moved here.
At the risk of overstating the point, the illusion of anything goes manifested in profound measure due to the vast majority of raw-parcel owners living far away and rarely, if ever, visiting their properties. To actual dwellers they held no more than an easily tuned out phantom presence. Inhabitants came to view the thousand-some vacant, undeveloped, seemingly unsellable parcels almost as some sort of permanent common park lands. Dwellers were sovereign over their own inviolate mini fiefdom of two to three acres plus oftentimes a luxuriant buffer zone of dozens of acres that could equal the domains of the more land-rich.
On the subtle though, some residents, beyond board members in contact with them, must've vaguely sensed the absent owners' displeasure over how the place had become so dysfunctional. One that allowed firewood-selling tree poachers to raid absentees' unprotected lots at will, sometimes lots even harboring actual squatters. Though perhaps having no one to blame but themselves for being suckers for ever buying into a ridiculously problematic place, it was easier to blame the residency and its mostly powerless board members who appeared to not care diddlysquat about the outrageous situation.
Whether or not one sensed this yet one more pernicious force thrown into the mix, on one level the absentees' combined ire over the state of affairs of course added to the overload of contentious energies working their mischief. Though on the subtle plane, it could gnaw at a resident's peace of mind no less than the in-your-face, code compliant dwellers waging war on the non-compliant. Only reflecting the vast absentee ownership that could never get into helping the place along, some might conclude it was a serious contender for being the straw that broke the camel's back.
Early pot grows and vigilante episodes
inside an intractable tract
In the early 2000s one of the few residents then furtively growing illicit cannabis to sell on the black market, before pot laws were further decriminalized, found himself with new neighbors on Starling Road. They were keen on doing the exact same thing. Wanting to avoid increasing the likelihood of bringing unwanted attention to his own operation, he persuaded them to leave by promising violence in no uncertain terms if they didn't.*
*California, of course, legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the first in the nation. In time, before it further legalized recreational pot, in late 2016, and changed the game rules yet again, a few enterprising Vistan residents had pooled together scrip from the sea of registered medical marijuana 'patients', entitling them to grow six plants a year for each. In effect, it let them grow up to 99 plants and technically still be in compliance with state law before triggering possible federal interest and penalties.
Reportedly, after 2016 this 99-plant figure would become the tacitly agreed-on limit, barring any filed complaints, by a seemingly overwhelmed county sheriff's department. The six-plant limit the state specified for all but licensed commercial grows would, of course, be gleefully ignored by the flood of later commercial growers -- and, eventually, even the 99 plant limit. For the civil misdemeanor fine was the same whether growing 30 or three thousand plants -- $500. If busted, growers would get back in the saddle the next day.
Siskiyou county, for what little it seemed to matter, would decide not to allow ANY commercial grows in the unincorporated county, i.e., beyond incorporated city limits. A town's people would have the voting option to approve legal commercial grows and sale dispensaries or not; the towns of Weed (naturally) and Mt. Shasta would. Commercial grows elsewhere were verboten.
The Vista's few early state-legal grows would no doubt set the stage for later developments, proving yet again how the remote place was forever an irresistible draw to all sorts for all sorts of reasons.
Between a critical handful of your more anarchistic-leaning residents ignoring any and all rules and regulations interfering with doing pretty much whatever they wanted; a county seemingly throwing up its hands and abandoning the place as a lost cause, actually deleting its residency-code enforcer post for years; and the radicalized times in general -- between all these, in due course the respect for the rule of law in the Vista got on pretty shaky ground.
More examples: as mentioned, some less than civic-minded entrepreneurial residents, as well as invading outsiders, routinely poached trees from vacant lots to sell as firewood, cutting down scores of standing snags, sometimes even felling living trees, including some of the few mature pines that had long graced the region, leaving unsightly stumps and slash piles on once almost pristine parcels. (A forestry department rep once showed the writer a regional map with a rash of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny red dots, each dot representing an illegal cut.) Another party set up a huge dog-rescue kennel on unimproved, treeless land in section 21; neighbors up to half a mile away suffered the endless barking of the unhappily caged residents, often left baking in the sun, for over a year until the operation was finally shut down.
Bolder souls often tried taking the law into their own hands. When a resident towards the top of White Drive discovered a surveyor had made an error decades earlier on his lot boundaries, he tried to close off the major through road outright with a sign-posted gate -- despite it being ages too late to legally remedy the error. One scofflaw neighbor who regularly used the road didn't think twice when encountering the sudden barrier: he simply backed up his bad-boy truck, gunned the engine, and smashed his way through, problem solved.
Yet another neighbor on McClarty Road, furious over certain parties routinely roaring by his place and raising clouds of dust just to tick him off, one evening furtively dug a slanted trench across the road. That night they sped by as usual, promptly lost control, and ran into a tree. Walking back stunned and furious to confront him, he shot at them, missing, and was later arrested. On another occasion, a resident on Cardinal Road saw red on learning his outlaw neighbor tried hitting on his young teen daughter. Along with a wrecking crew he rounded up, he descended on the culprit's land late at night while he was known to be on vacation at the county lockup. They proceeded to vandalize and loot the place to a fare-thee-well. And when a Black man briefly occupied a vacant stone cottage (again,on McLarty Road) and was discovered by the owner late at night, the latter held a shotgun on him for 40 minutes until a sheriff deputy finally arrived.
Obviously the place's auspicious start during simpler times, its relatively homogeneous, convention-minded, law-abiding dwellers sharing their warm bonhomie, had long ago sunk into such utter oblivion that it was two different worlds.
Blame it on the mountain
One could maybe in part blame the energy of the massive mountain for residents not working any better together. Through its natural force field, vortex energy, or whatever it was one felt it emanated, it was, as mentioned, thought by some to stimulate one's upper chakras. While initially revving up one's wildly visionary imagination, in time it could pull one meditatively inward. Bolstered by the development founder, who as fellow camper in the early days also relished the freedom to do whatever wanted on the land (within the prevailing law-abiding limits, of course), the mountain's influence could work to make one feel their parcel was a veritable Fortress of Solitude.
Long after the honeymoon camping years had faded away and an increasingly casual, quasi homesteading took off in earnest, people in the 1990s for a while actually campaigned to get voted onto the board. While some no doubt hoped to try mellowing the place -- maybe willing to turn a blind eye to unenforceable county ordinances so long as residents were otherwise peaceable, hoping to make the best of a bad situation -- others, still grinding the code enforcement ax, were bound and determined to renew the by then ineffectual hardline stance on unsanctioned dwellings, illicit dwellers, and pretty much anyone who looked at them cross-eyed.
This relatively community-active period passed soon enough. Fast-forward a decade and the place became so overwhelmed with non-compliant, scofflaw residents that it again entered a dispirited period of pronounced civic indifference. A lawless air, perhaps in part only reflecting the times' high national crime rate, was punctuated by helpless wails from the dutifully code compliant: “What’s happening to this place?”
Lost in a fog, we'd become like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, aimlessly adrift. "Water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink."
Rambunctious Whitney Creek
This, even as, in supreme irony, residents periodically had to scramble to keep snow melt and mud out from next door's seasonally running, sometimes rampaging, Whitney Creek. It periodically flooded parts of the adjacent section 28 lowlands. The Association long ago at last sued the Forest Service for allowing the course of the creek -- actually more a snow melt wash -- to be diverted towards the new subdivision by removing a dam built above state highway 97 by people in the area that later became Lake Shastina and who no longer had need of it -- or wanted to deal with it themselves.
The ensuing periodic floods washed out both certain chronically vulnerable Vista roads and the adjoining parcels. The development won the suit, and the quarter-million dollar settlement went to funding massive earthen berms that to this day are still kept up along Buckhorn Road and Rising Hill Road to protect the place from future floods. Between summer bulldozing efforts to repair the latest erosion from the previous year's water action and the creek sometimes cutting new courses through the silt, the waters have for a long while been mostly diverted out of harm's way.*
* But not always. In August 2022, part of the Buckhorn Road berm was again breached after a prolonged, record 100 degree weather generated extraordinary amounts of snow and glacier melt, possibly built up in an ice dam and finally bursting, flooding land on both sides the of berm and prompting a Code Red evacuation alert.
Bored writer joins the board
In the early 2010s, after over 30 years feeling little fondness for the board -- at times being demonized by some of its members in return, short fuses being common all around -- the writer actually served on it, for all of 18 months. At the time, volunteering for the board had hit an all-time low. It was hard-pressed to fill out more than three of its five seats, three being the legal minimum needed to conduct essential business like approving road maintenance outlays.
They weren't too picky about who volunteered, just so long as one was a code-compliant resident in good standing. If not rallying, the place could'v gone into dread state receivership as a failed subdivision and face monumentally unpleasant and costly consequences. As I was one of only a few who even sporadically attended monthly meetings, one evening in 2012 I somehow got roped into serving on it as secretary, by president Pamela Simpson, almost before I knew what was happening.
While it turned out the development's actually defaulting was never a serious threat, it had at least flirted with such an ignominious fate from time to time. It could feel like no one cared what happened to the woebegone place. Certainly few appreciated or respected how various residents were volunteering time and energy to try to meet the state's mandate to do what needed to be done to keep things at least flirting with a minimum level of functionality.
For all their troubles such volunteers were vilified as power-crazed busybodies.
With so many members -- resident and absentee alike -- routinely damning the board, or, at the least, being supremely indifferent to it, all but its more determined and thick-skinned members serving on it burned out fast, getting overwhelmed, jaded and/or embittered in record time. Those who hung in could become charred remnants of their former selves, sleepwalking through the monthly meetings, but, like a dog with a bone, determined not to let go of the reigns for fear no one could or would could replace them and do a credible job. Indeed, from time to time the board actually did attract volunteers who had some shameless private agenda in mind to use the place to their own advantage, or who idly sought the dubious prestige being a member might bestow without having to do much real work.
As the writer was to learn, the board's pressure-cooker meetings could be detrimental to one's peace of mind. One had to be in full psychic armor, as it were, ready for battle if, say, some outraged resident or visiting owner attended to vent his or her spleen. Or endure soul-crushing boredom. And one could sometimes be made to feel like cannon fodder if, for instance, told by the manager to sign a stack of legal foreclosure papers on property owners who'd given up on the place, or were in dire financial straits, or both.
One struggled to rise above the sea of paperwork and dry formal meeting procedure -- endured in the cramped, cold-fluorescent lit firehouse backroom -- if hoping to accomplish anything one might conceivably be proud of. Spirits usually were subdued, sometimes to the point of our seeming to be in clinical group depression. It was as if everyone felt the thankless grand futility of it all but plugged away anyhow out of a dogged sense of civic duty.
All is futile...
Born under a dark star?
No doubt like many well-meaning board members before and after me, I'd hoped to somehow try turning the place around. The situation just seemed so ridiculously depressing, so needlessly downbeat, so needlessly all-is-futility-and-why-even-bother?, that surely it wouldn't take much to break free of such a dispirited operation. You'd think. But of course I struck out like everyone else. While some of my eventual newsletter features and editorial write-ups did seem appreciated, it was too late. The boat had not only left the dock but sailed half way around the world by then. The die was cast. The dismal course set. Barring a miracle, it was purely wishful thinking to imagine board members could ever pull the place out of the hopeless quagmire.
We were dinosaurs stuck in a tar pit, lamenting our home front's bleak fate.
Though various mindful visitors over time sensed the land's healing qualities -- some overnighters reported having the best dreams of their lives -- cynics, not without some reason, came to dismiss the beleaguered realm out of hand: “No water, no trees, nothing but desert and rattlesnakes.” To them, it was just a cheap substandard rural bedroom community; hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks; maybe a few more respectable, hardworking residents, hoping to play out their elusive dream of idyllic country living and obviously building in the wrong place...
The way so many routinely slammed the place, one might've concluded it was born under a dark star, a wicked witch’s cauldron boiling over with gnarly contention, any effort to reverse its fate utter folly.
Resistance was futile.
A bit of esoterica:
Vista's astrology and cardology
Those into astrology might appreciate the celestial forces at work the day the place legally came into being: November 3, 1965. This calendar date was the birthday of TV's Scorpion Rosanne Barr, along with football's Collin Kaepernick and actor Charles Bronson. Some might say the resulting brooding, super-wound energies imprinted on the development at its moment of birth practically guaranteed the place would always be more than a tad on the intense side. (Lightening the mix, both Mars and Venus were in nature-loving Sagittarius, along with a compassionate, dreamy Pisces moon.)
Then there's cardology, the study of planetary influences forming a unique DNA signature for each day of the year and symbolized by a playing card (some days sharing the same card, but having variations of meaning). Its 4 of diamonds birthday, according to the book Cards of Destiny by Sharon Jeffers, created an "innate restlessness, possible dissatisfaction with what one was doing," and could make one "...a dreamer who doesn't always allow dreams to become reality."
That last surely fit the Vista to a T. A dreamland indeed, not doing very well dealing with the waking state.
Somewhere along the way the once openly shared, carefree vacation land had reached a critical tipping point and passed the point of no return. Scofflaw residents were determined to do their own thing, while hundreds of landholders with severe buyer remorse had little to no interest in the place except to cash out. The scene got so sketchy that few to none were any longer interested in building to code. (Why bother, when the county had dropped its residential code enforcer position and a code-built place couldn't fetch enough in the realty market for being in such a squirrelly place?) All these daunting factors, heaped together with the rest, were converging to in time create the perfect storm.
The coalescing situation was already letting any so inclined have a field day pursuing whatever doubtful land uses they might dream up -- junk yards, dog kennels, meth labs -- for being off private dirt roads, tucked far away from all but the prying eyes of maybe a few nosy neighbors. No matter such dubious uses upset the peace and quiet the compliant had dropped anchor here for and invested decades of blood, sweat and tears in establishing homesteads or bought from those that had.
The wayward realm was clearly singing the old Cole Porter tune, "Anything Goes."
Without a more pro-active, harmonizing force, one with at the least some semblance of community concern and respect for the rule of law, a lawless spirit was gaining an outsize influence. The majority of less invested residency, used to the place being hopelessly dysfunctional -- a quirky, low-key hideaway with a powerless board and unresponsive county authorities -- wouldn't read the writing on the wall.
As a consequence, the place was leaving the door wide open for even greater calamity.
One didn't need the omniscience of 20-20 hindsight to realize that by the early teens two things had become startlingly clear: One, the lotus land was a rudderless ship that was vulnerable to drifting into perilous straits; and two, residents either didn't care or felt powerless to do anything to try to safeguard a still fitfully tranquil, nature-rich lifestyle now taken for granted.
The Vista thru Time
Further reflections on
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Knowing where the Vista was coming from could go a long ways in understanding where it would go. Had the place’s metaphorical foundation ( as it were) gone full circle? First tents and trailers set on sand. Then morphing into conventional homes built on rock; then going sideways to trailers and makeshift shelters set on sand again.
Whatever happened, lack of water always played a major role. Klamath River County Estates (KRCE) landowner Will Jensen, in long ago reporting in his blog covering an exhaustive search to find the ideal affordable rural home property with an inspiring Mt. Shasta view, noted, “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.”
Wanting to remedy the chronic water shortage, in the early 2000s a few solution minded residents applied for a government grant to fund their proposed centralized water distribution system. It was rejected, deemed too much expense to help too few.
The realm's need for dependable water was perhaps highlighted for being in such high desert land, almost always baking hot and bone dry in summer; as well as for being volcanic terrain, often making hitting water through lava strata touch and go and even then sometimes resulting in water undrinkable without expensive treatment.
One time, early owners drilling for water hit a lava tube. They felt a constant cool air coming out of the hole and decided to harness the tube's frigid air stream with a fan to naturally air-condition their home, while sinking a successful well elsewhere. (More on the water situation is in the next part.)
Back to the ‘80s
By the mid 1980s, Vista’s resident population had grown to maybe 150 or 200 residences of various and sundry ambition. Scattered over the vastness of nearly seven square miles of woodlands, it was still a mere sprinkling; the development was worlds away from even beginning to get built out. Many dwellers still felt like land barons. Especially if on parcels far from the relative concentration of structures amid the few power lines and closer to the highway.
It seemed many owners were addicted to pavement and simply could never warm up to the place's humble cinder roads. They were adverse to their nice clean vehicle getting all dusty and ruining the latest car wash. They were disinclined to want to drive an endless five miles over often narrow, winding cinder roads to reach the properties in the furthest reaches. A half mile of unpaved back road was enough to have to endure. It seemed the desire for seclusion was balanced against the desire for easy in and out. With so many less desirable parcels scattered deep in the hinterlands, there was a grand buffer of over a thousand empty parcels that lent such regions a profoundly tranquil and park-like ambiance for any willing to go the distance.
No matter how much pristine land one might enjoy, though, it seemed a dangerous undercurrent always lurked just below the surface. One that could jam one’s peace of mind and ability to any better experience the oft-heralded joys of country living. Between the regional community never accepting the place and the hellbent resolve of code-compliant residents to forever wage war on code ignorers, one often seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if one was compliant, an almost palpable tension could fill the air. On the subtle, it was like living in a crowded tenement, angry landlord pounding on the door.
This was one of the grand ironies of living in the Vista. Either you detached and became philosophical about it all or perhaps soon found yourself over-identifying with artist Munch’s screamer.
It would drive more than a few to drink.
A missing word sank efforts
About 2012, a long overdue effort was launched by some more civic-minded residents. A committee was formed to try to revise the outdated CC&Rs. Not overhaul them, but at least tinker around the edges, hoping to make them a bit more relevant. After much slow sledding, a glitch in a progress report sent out to everyone promptly sank the earnest efforts. The pamphlet cover’s title was supposed to read: “Proposed Changes to Mt. Shasta Vista Bylaws”. The all-critical first word was, of course, left out, making the changes sound like a done deal.
This prompted a barely peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd to storm the next monthly board meeting. Residents who normally avoided such meetings like the plague had come out of the woodwork. They thought the board was trying to stage a coup.
The long and winding roads;
Whitney Creek revisited
While you had your own private parcel, the modest annual ‘road dues’ assessments were, again, deeply resented and often contested by those not getting their own roads any better maintained (if at all). Various absentee owners added to the chorus, claiming they could barely reach their parcels if located in more remote regions because their roads hadn’t been touched in ages. The most neglected stretches could develop deep dry pools of tire-grabbing, quicksand-like silt so bad, AAA tow trucks eventually refused to come out to rescue trapped vehicles -- after once having gotten their own rig got stuck in turn and a monster tow truck having to be called in to rescue the rescuer.
It didn’t really help matters any that part-time neighbor, Whitney Creek, rambunctious when summer temperatures soared to 90 or 100 degree F., melting heavy snow pack, cut a new course or flooded its banks. It once actually put most of Section 28 under nine inches of water, forcing an evacuation and making regional TV news. The worst of the many floods over time until a massive earthen berm was finally built, it washed away some area's roads so thoroughly, the board abandoned them outright and eventually bought the parcels of those who could no longer reach their parcels short of driving a Hummer. They figured it was cheaper than having to keep rebuilding the remote, little used roadways. Three-fourths of Rising Hill Road, the southernmost road in the Vista, no longer exists, and the area is still vulnerable to flood. Delivery people and first-timers using an obsolete map, or over-relying on Google Maps, often got confused (if not hopelessly stuck) looking for the phantom road until the Association -- decades after there became a crying need for them -- finally installed Dead End signs.
Train wreck of a place
Vistan parcel holders by and large were a frugal lot: bought the land cheap, moved in cheap, wanted to keep things cheap. Many harbored pronounced stand-alone inclinations. It seemed futile to even try building community in such a bare-bones -- sometimes outright ornery -- social climate. The situation was, as writer keeps reminding reader, seriously compounded by the sea of absentee owners who bought parcels solely as investments, then came to feel their holdings an albatross about their collective necks for the ouchy annual assessment fee and chronic sleeper-market conditions in what was deemed a spectacularly failed development. Such a pronounced, widespread disenchantment soon arrested any errant inclination one might have to try pulling the development out of its advanced discombobulated straits.
At some point, having no legal foundation blueprints with which to build standard community, the place -- caught between a rock and a hard place and overwhelmed by the seemingly endless set of adverse circumstances -- simply shorted out. It was a broken development first-time visitors routinely dropped their jaws over. Such an astonishingly failed, "left for dead", train wreck of a place being set amid otherwise charming backwoods struck many as surreal. Like a long abandoned film set for some low budget Western left gathering mothballs in outdoor storage. Or, again, it was as if the place had grown too big for its britches in trying to rise above the lowly station born to, and so was left paying a steep price for such rank impertinence.
Those who had early on built code-approved homes -- almost everyone who first moved onto the land -- were pragmatic in assessing the situation. They knew it would take everyone following health and building regulations if the development were to remain a standard rural community.
But people had started moving in on the cheap, displaying innocent "Hey, I'm just building a little vacation cabin here, it's no biggie" sentiments, or more defiant, "Whadarya goin' to do about it, hee-hee?" attitudes. They knew their one-time law-abiding retirement hideaway was in mortal danger, its very survival depending on county authorities to step in with no-nonsense code enforcement to set things right again.
Failing that, the place was toast.
Still a nice place to live, kinda sorta
Over time, the realm -- becoming a broad, hopelessly haphazard mix of approved living structures and unsanctioned, makeshift dwellings and derelict trailers -- stabilized, of sorts. It became perhaps not too unlike a quarter-risen cake that stopped rising in the oven, partially collapsed, then dried out and solidified. Though caught between worlds, it was de facto recycled, its residency becoming like hermit crabs, moving in among the abandoned rec land shells. Many and sundry came to consider the development a nice place to live, despite all. Sure, it was a failed subdivision, but hey, one could live with that. It was our failed subdivision.
Living in the Vista was like wearing a comfy if disreputable-looking old pair of sneakers yet to develop worrisome holes in the soles.
No such kind regard was ever felt by most of the some eighty percent of property holders constituting the absentee membership scattered all over the nation. They were clearly not enjoying the land. Some, possibly hoping for a miraculous turnaround, had, as said, clung to their title deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and doubling down, shelling out each year for upkeep of roads they never drove on lest their land be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time.
This churn rate of lot ownerships created extra billing time for the salaried manager processing the sea of legal paperwork, driving up association dues and generating quick commissions for expedient realtors who kept offering the embarrassment of beleaguered lots as sleeper land steals to the gullible, undiscriminating and scofflaw. They often didn't have to say a word; the remote dirt-cheap lots with fabulous views and deep seclusion sold themselves.
Meanwhile, absentee parcel holders, like characters in Waiting for Godot, had stood by, waiting for values to rise so they could finally lose the clunkers at a decent profit, or the place improve itself to the point they could enjoy visiting more often and consider building full-on homes.
ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views
Earliest campers in the newly formed wonderland savored it like fine wine. In spring the realm delighted the senses with surprise splashes of lavender, purple, red, and yellow wildflowers. Rich lichen moss on aging and dead junipers seemed almost magical, dazzling the eye with bright, near-phosphorescent green. After rains the pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was like nature's own perfume.
Abundant wildlife included deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, plentiful birds, ever-friendly and curious chipmunks, less friendly polecats, porcupines and, yes, rattlesnakes; a rare mountain lion and other wildcats; tiny, endangered kangaroo rats, with their impossibly long tails, hopping about at dusk...
The place's first vacationers returned home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to the shared wilderness hideaway and all the improvements they’d work on during their rendezvous with friends new and old, all eager to grow the new private retreat for their own enjoyment and the benefit of every visitor to the land.
Seldom heard: a discouraging word
Earliest parcel vacationers gathered at night to enjoy campfire get-togethers. Coyotes often yipped up a storm in the distance, no doubt time-warping the more suggestible back to the days of the Old West and prompting spontaneous choruses of “Home on the Range”, "Red River Valley" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad." They enjoyed daytime potlucks and barbecues under the unfailing majesty of Mt. Shasta’s northern slopes, offering such staggering views that local photographer Keven Lahey would later race over to snap spectacular, almost surreal, lenticular clouds flying off it or the impossibly huge one hovering over it like a mothership.
Judging by the writings in the association's twice-annual Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared euphoric waves of feelgoodness that were sweeping the land during those rarefied purple-haze days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (along with gnarly uprisings, wars and protests, of course).
...and the saucers flew by-y-y all night
Even if one was a hard-line Nam war hawk and hostile to the emerging counterculture, with its sometimes outlandish, convention-jarring, free-minded ways, spirits ran high...no doubt aided and abetted by their own mind-altering drug of choice, alcohol. But the group buzz might’ve been further heightened by something quite extraordinary: unknowingly copping a contact high from parties aboard then-frequent UFOs darting about the mountain and making national headlines.
The embryonic community just might've gained some rarefied super-charge from curious advanced extra-terrestrial beings checking out the singing earthlings camped out on the mountain's sleepy side.
To any susceptible to the subtle charms of the land -- magnified for being under the mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise. One new parcel holders worked on to make it nicer. Light-duty cinder roads were kept immaculately groomed by the membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers planted at highway entrances, the welcoming archway lifted up into place. Then, as said, group civic improvement efforts seemed to have peaked on establishing the de facto community well and extending power lines to parcels whose owners committed to drilling wells as the first step to gaining residency. (Covered in depth in the next part)
It’s said in metaphysical thinking that the imprint of earliest inhabitants on a land establishes a subtle vibration it then forever resonates with -- no matter what later happens on it. If accepting this as true... Prehistoric indigenous people had seasonally hunted game here but didn’t settle, probably over lack of water and not daring live so close to such a powerful and sacred mountain. Beyond them and the first isolated white settlers on the land -- like Eli Barnum by Sheep Rock in the 1850s and later hunters and livestock grazers -- it might be said that the first major indelible imprint on the land was made by none other than modern-day-pioneering Vistans in the mid to late 1960s.
If so, they bestowed on the land an euphoric, industrious, conservative, somewhat topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature the land henceforward always resonated with even if buried below the surface by future events. (Another example: often wild, free-spirited San Francisco: reportedly in nice weather its first inhabitants loved nothing better than to roll about in the mud and then run around naked.)
Apart from such possible influences, whenever a mindful visitor unwound and tuned into the land they could sense some pronounced, soft, almost-otherworldly dreamland quality about it. In spots beyond earshot of highway wash, no jets droning overhead or rumbling train off in the distance, the land held such a deep quietude one might've sensed they were actually hearing the earth breathing. Repeat visitors and residents alike, once adjusting to the at first sometimes eerie silence, came to embrace it like a long-lost lover. (Explorers of Pluto Caves, just beyond one of the Vista's border, might've experienced something of this etheric quality.)
But the dreamy atmosphere came with a serious downside. Tenuous new residents who were wowed by the woodland parcels bought for a song could get so caught up in rich fantasies that they never integrated being here with doing what was needed to be done to get things legally squared away with the powers that be, thus allowing their brainstorms to actually manifest. Instead they remained just so many pipe dreams the region's rarefied energies so easily fostered.
Over time countless one-time owners came and went, happy bubbles burst after a few months or years of either ignoring or being ignorant of the mundane realities created and enforced by county and state governments, rules legally obligating any would-be resident to first establish a certain acceptable standard of living...until, out of the blue, a reality check shocked awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.
It was phenomenal. The serene, enchanting land, for sale cheap, kept grabbing newbies, getting them wildly enthused over the parcels' rich possibilities. Then -- like a 'Star Trek' TV episode in which the landing team finds a planet that at first appears a strange, wondrous paradise -- they're disillusioned to discover its fatal flaw.
A fine place by George:
further speculations on why things went so hopelessly south
Developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than the earlycomers, actually joined vacationers during the first, visiting-only years. He became the glue that held the place together, being midwife, cheerleader, first board president, enthused fellow vacationer and daddy moneybags all rolled into one. He informally pitched in with funds and resources to help the place along at every turn. “...I consider myself privileged to be a neighbor to each and every one of you,” he said in an early newsletter, going on to wax poetic how the place was “...our home away from home, our frontier, our Shangri-la...there should be a constant flurry of barbecue parties, coffee klatches and just informal get-togethers all through the year.”
While he might’ve developed only a bare-bones recreational subdivision -- one lacking critical infrastructure to facilitate ever growing into anything more and causing endless headache and heartbreak for countless in the latter-day, would-be community -- at least he wasn't just some disinterested land developer who took the money and ran.
He was central in the place's beginnings on so many levels that other property owners undoubtedly got used to the place being in his capable hands. To some degree they maybe became something akin to passive land tenants, dependent on him to do whatever needed to be done, "Let George do it" became the response for any matter cropping up that needed addressing. He was in essence the place's benevolent overlord, doing all the heavy lifting and sparing everyone else the bother. In return he was acknowledged as the main man by his willing and grateful subjects. So long as he stayed in the picture few probably ever felt motivated or empowered to take on any major efforts themselves to further organize and grow the place according to their own lights.
When he at some point faded from the picture for reasons uncertain, new owner residents, their 'father' abandoning them, had to scramble post haste. Now left to their own devices, they were faced with a steep learning curve, assuming responsibilities and dealing with ongoing realities, some of which they probably never knew even existed, suddenly staring them in the face. One might conclude that it was at this point that the association's good ship Vista began to founder. They'd been abandoned by their captain and were left struggling to regain their bearings and steer a course under their own steam, while bailing like crazy to stay afloat.
Over time, the development might've now and then appeared to have gotten back on track (as much as any track existed) under the guidance of more on-the-ball, altruistic board members. They'd scramble to get things tenuously up to speed once tackling remedial catch-up work. Then it'd derail again, under the endless shuffle of new, sometimes less motivated, capable and/or knowledgeable resident volunteers. There was always a lot of slow, on-the-job training involved, so by the time new volunteers got a tenuous handle on things they were often burned out and the learning process began all over again with other newbies from an ever-shrinking pool of willing residential volunteers.
One might wonder if perhaps originally Collins did have loftier ambitions for the place and had considered launching an actual, infrastructure-supported residential development. Or if he'd only decided to try playing catch up by launching an electric power fund on seeing how next door Lake Shastina was suddenly going full-tilt residential as well as other Mt. Shasta area rural developments taking off about the same time. Perhaps at first he thought it was too far from town, amid a sparsely populated farming community, water too scarce to attract enough people to want to actually live there -- but then later he changed his tune, feeling it might indeed be a nice place to retire to "bye 'n' bye". The pipe-dreaming mountain influence likely had him under its seductive spell no less than any other...maybe more so.
Possibly he'd begun to hope the place could in deed become a regular rural community despite not having better reckoned with water, electricity and waste disposal needs (let alone more far-seeing, comprehensive CC&Rs) to support such an evolution. Then he lost heart when inevitable squabbles erupted once people began digging in and dropping anchor, suddenly getting offputtingly territorial and falling out over ambitions to electrify the whole place. (Covered in the next part.)
While it was always easy to come and go, it was hard to stay. Various owners wanting to move onto the land realized they had to forge ahead on their own steam, each needing to supply their own water, power and septic at great personal expense, and so maybe started telling him where to get off. He'd perhaps become little more than a tiresome cheerleader by then. Feelings hurt after all he'd done to birth and nurture the place along, he might've at last said the hell with everyone and his blessing turned to a curse.
Or maybe the grand parting of the ways happened later (if still here, writer's not sure exactly when he exited the picture), over the gnarly clashes beginning to brew between code compliant dwellers and outlaw builders. If so, he might've come to the sad realization that the county simply wasn't equipped to keep a handle on residential compliance, despite the most dedicated efforts of code-legal residents to work with authorities. Foreseeing this thorny, deal-breaking dilemma -- maybe even taking heat for on some level having allowed such a thing to happen -- he beat a hasty retreat, and his and others' vision for the place began its sad, irreversible decline.
In any event, something seemed to happen between Collins and his one-time fellow vacationing lot owners then emerging as independent homesteaders, that turned the wine into vinegar. Something -- or series of somethings -- had changed the tenor of the ephemeral Shangri-la from dream to nightmare.
Lookin' for a sign in the maze of roads
Vista’s raw parcels on a per-acre basis were some ten times cheaper than those of next door's exurb of Lake Shastina, started a couple years later in 1968. The Vista first attracted an equally solvent if more rough-and-ready vacationing camper crowd than the second-home buyer group Lake Shastina's developers initially wooed with its full-on infrastructure and relative closeness to town amenities.
Road signs were critical inside Vista's endless 66 mile maze. Even longtime residents like the writer could get lost if hazarding off one's accustomed route. One night driving about, I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea where I was. On getting to an intersection and spotting a stenciled 4X4 wooden road sign post, I climbed out and shone my flashlight on it, expecting to regain my bearings with the help of a trusty road map. But the painted lettering had faded to illegibility, done in by the elements, and I was still lost in a place I'd called home for decades.
Second generation signs were equally small, four-foot tall vertical metal affairs that soon rusted out. Delinquents would steal them and the third generation's tall, elaborate, rust-proof, reflective green metal signs, too. Perhaps they felt the latter's slick, citified quality clashed with the place's rustic ambiance. Or they just wanted to make it harder for anyone to find them if they didn't want to be found, leaving those unfamiliar with the roads feeling so lost they'd give up and switch focus to try finding their way out of the labyrinth.
Place haunted by the sheer number
of phantom parcel owners
Again, many lot holders never set foot on their properties. They'd snapped them up in pure speculation -- and maybe for the excitement of gaining bragging rights of owning a piece of the golden state -- hoping either eventual improvements like central piped water and extended power lines would finally skyrocket parcel values or that, at the very least, they'd have something substantial to leave their family.
Over the decades property titles traded like so many baseball cards at school recess. If each parcel on average changed hands just three times over its first 50 years (probably an underestimate), the place, up to 2015, then experienced a rotating ownership of some 5,000 individuals from all over the nation. If you include two more family members per parcel getting involved, this number increased to some 15,000, each holding a varied interest in the place and some personal stake in its development...or lack thereof.
That's a lot of absentee ownership. One guaranteed to permanently keep the place more than a little sketchy around the edges. It seemed it was always more about being a congregation of commercial commodities -- simple stand-alone camp grounds soon all but obsolete -- than any place with a determination to grow into an actual community.
Once the original retiree clique faded away and the wildly diverse population came to dominate, civic interest seemed to all but disappear. Many latter-day newcomers who first plugged in and involved themselves soon sensed the realm's dread undertow and veritable Mt. Everest of inertia. Such forces -- magnified by the board, the only one organized group the place had other than a volunteer fire department -- would, as said, shatter one's dreams and create an overwhelming sense of futility to the prospect of ever trying to fix anything. The place was like a disastrous big budget movie where everything goes wrong soon after a promising start and the project's creative vision is never realized.
Initially involved newcomers either gave up in shocked disillusionment or quickly dialed back involvement. The few undeterred, more thick-skinned and unwavering often appeared like so many Don Quixotes valiantly tilting at windmills.
By the Vista’s fiftieth anniversary, in November 2015 -- a milestone no doubt noted by few, if any, much less celebrated -- absentee parcel owners still outnumbered residents about seven to one. For residents to get involved in such a crazy-quilt of mostly absentee owners indifferent to the realities and needs of the few actually calling the place home, many just passing through slowly at that, clearly appeared a losing proposition.
Setting the standard
That first wave of firstcomers, maybe seven or so couples, were, as said, recent retirees flush with cash from selling city homes and were psyched at the prospect of becoming something of modern day pioneers by establishing a close-knit, nature-rich retirement community.*
*Among them the Nortons, Sheltons, and Smothermons. The last surviving one, Bill Waterson, died at his Meadow Road home in 2015 at age 98; future residents claimed they sensed his spirit haunting the place. (Note how all names ended with '-on.')
They nurtured hopes of the place blossoming into a respectable relaxed backwoods community as other retirees joined them. One that they, as founding members, would've established a comfortable living standard others, similarly financially secure, would gladly emulate.
But its success as a growing bonafide community had hinged on every newcomer generating their own infrastructure and conforming to health and building codes...before ever dropping anchor.
“You gotta permit for that?"
Health and building codes had been rigorously enforced in Siskiyou County then. The first wave of owner builders, staunch law abiding citizens that they were, never thought twice about conforming. They jumped through every last hoop, albeit some no doubt some gritting their teeth and grumbling. So, dammit, anyone else wanting to stay longer than 30 days a year -- the ostensible legal limit for staying on unimproved property anywhere in California -- had to earn the right just as they had, end of story.
Seeing how firstcomers went so bonkers as various parcel owners overextended camp visits to becoming permanent occupational forces, the philosophical might've thought it all more than a bit odd: A place that started out championing primitive rec properties was now busting the chops of anyone camping too long, like they were a plague on the land. The fact that it had turned a full 180 degrees -- residents becoming so wary of owners camping out, especially if seeing suspicious structures going up and mobiles rolling in overnight, that they checked them out like so many wanted criminals, keeping track of permissible days left before throwing them under the bus in righteous fury...it was a situation rich in tragic irony.
The place had started as do-your-own-thing recreational lots, then tried transforming into a residential community, then the overall purpose of the development got so muddled it ended up supporting neither.
The Vista Through Time
Continuing informal history, tales and reflections on
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Power to the people
In the early seventies, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund. To transform the place into a conventional backwoods community, or even just to accommodate power-thirsty trailer devices, one needed to supply that ubiquitous energy elixir so much of humanity was hooked on.
The initial impetus was simply wanting to extend a few power lines to parcels whose owners had committed -- or would commit -- to building to code once bringing in wells. But so many got enthused over developer Collin's idea of building retirement homes here that ambition took a quantum leap. Suddenly property owners envisioned electrifying the whole dang place. A volunteer assessment was levied, and while contribution to the fund was optional, the power company, on the strength of developer Collins’s assurances he’d work to get everyone on board, made a tentative commitment to extend power lines to every lot in the subdivision.
The place was reaching another critical turning point: If everyone went along, it could be well on its way to blossoming into an actual full-on residential community. It would've met one of the three crucial infrastructure needs, an adequate water supply and hygienic waste disposal means still to be reckoned with.
It appeared on the verge of maybe reinventing itself in grand fashion.
But nothing comes easy. While three in four -- some 1,200 owners -- did get on board with the plan and ponied up, a quarter of the membership rebelled. They refused to chip in despite the membership newsletter's pleaful pitch from Collins that began, "I know you each bought a lot out in the middle of nowhere so you could do with it whatever you damn well please, but...", then going on to try convincing holdouts to reconsider and chip into the fund.
It was to no avail.
Many no doubt decided they were fine enjoying the primitive parcels just the way they were, thank you very much. They relished roughing it and probably felt unsightly power lines and poles would only despoil the scenery and erode the place's wild, pristine charm. They'd bought the primitive land cheap for simple vacation use, period. Many probably never had intentions to do anything with the land more than rough-in a driveway on their lots and build a stone campfire ring, maybe an outhouse if really ambitious. The whole idea of the place had been to camp out and get away from the complexities of modern civilization (like electrical dependency), get back to basics, push the reset button and recharge; bringing in electricity could defeat the whole purpose.
But likely more of those refusing to chip in were only disinterested absentee-owner speculators. They no doubt had by then second thoughts on the possibly emerging boondoggle they'd somehow gotten themselves tangled up in. Property values weren't increasing appreciably as they'd hoped, and the anticipated thrill of making easy money was gone. They'd soured on the place as things got confusing with people actually settling on their vacation parcels, trying to turn the place into a whole new critter, and so were loathe to sink another cent into what was possibly fast becoming a money pit. Likely some reasoned that getting power to every lot in itself wouldn't be enough to appreciably increase the parcels' market values due to the iffy water situation and sometimes problematic waste disposal issue. Maybe their disenchantment was in part born of a skepticism not enough would ever want to live out in the middle of nowhere, so far from long accustomed city conveniences, but since the place would no longer be dedicated for recreational parcels either, it would have become desirable to neither interest, disastrous to increasing property values.
Sorry, out of luck
So the fund was a limited one. It was first come, first served, good til gone. After a few dozen soon-to-be owner-builders -- jazzed at the idea of living in such natural seclusion -- went for it, the fund went dry. The power company, having anticipated a flood of new power-guzzling customers, backed out of its commitment. They'd been discouraged anyhow by the frequent drill bit-shattering lava rock strata they encountered, which required expensive replacements. (A similar problem was experienced by some owners trying to excavate workable conventional septic systems.)
Before the tide turned and efforts were aborted, the power company had ambitiously planted and wired tall street lamps at all five highway A-12 entrances. but the beacons, which gave off an eerie cold bluish glow, kept getting shot out by rowdy locals. No doubt their tribe was still fulminating over the subdivision ever getting the green light, and they must've taken keen delight in being able to sabotage the place without even leaving the blacktop. After a few persistent rounds of target practice and consequent repairs, the power company finally gave up and the road lamps were removed. The entrances were once again swallowed by darkness after nightfall.
All told, maybe some ten to fifteen percent of the 1,641 parcels got connected to the power grid. Some owners who'd contributed to the fund -- possibly assuming everyone would -- became bitter and sold in disgust. Or kept their lots, wanting to build, but were furious over such a sorry course of events in which they'd effectively subsidized others to become legal residents while they were left out in the cold. When ready to build, they were told sorry, out of luck,and the power company would then quote them a shocking five-figure estimate to extend the lines. This no doubt turned them apoplectic over a development whose ownership had so miserably failed to get on the same page that such inequities emerged.
Add this teeth-gnashing to the place's growing contentious spirit and general all-around climate of discombobulation.
Place didn't catch the solar-electric wave
Later, the place would miss a sure bet not embracing solar electricity. What with its enviable banana-belt micro-climate and solar technology in time plummeting panel costs over ten-fold, it seemed the perfect way to go. It could be so sunshiny here on some March days that one might be soaking up the rays while in Weed, a mere fifteen miles away, hunched-over snow shovelers still wistfully dreamed of spring. The first solar electric system was installed by 1970s' resident Brian Green, co-founding photographer of what in time became the premier go-to resource and how-to guide for alternate-energy home systems, HomePower.* (In contrast to the Vista, not far away McCloud region’s Shasta Forest subdivision was even further from the grid yet its lot owners, dutifully code-compliant, came to embrace solar full tilt as a much more affordable -- not to mention more environmentally friendly -- solution to power needs.)
*While the later owner of Brian Green's home would lose the place to the Lava Fire of 2021, one thing miraculously had survived unscathed: the latest bank of solar panels. Safely perched above on its metal stand in a clearing amid otherwise total devastation, it looked like nothing was amiss as far as it was concerned.
Writer in 1989 became one of two Vista residents to fully embrace solar. In my case, it was sunshine or bust -- no backup generator -- which even now powers this online article's periodic reworking. (For anyone curious, a HomePower story on my modest system was featured in issue #30 as an example of a successful small set-up, showing how you didn't have to spend a fortune to create an off-grid system if one could be contenthaving a few basic electrical amenities and go with alternate powering sources on others.)
While many hit good water, often between 175 to 350 feet or so, the wells of others were plagued with iron levels that dyed the laundry pink, or arsenic levels that made drinking the water a bit dicey.* And sometimes Shasta Vista’s underground water table proved FAR deeper -- 700 to 800 feet or more -- especially in higher elevation areas like section 23.
*A retired couple on Gilman, a mile from writer, drilled a well with water having arsenic levels within then-acceptable health department limits when treated. Years later, they died not very far apart. While writer never learned if arsenic poisoning was determined the cause of death, not long afterwards the county health department drastically reduced future wells' acceptable arsenic levels for approval.
As related, developer Collins and a group of volunteers got together to establish an informal, de facto community well. They constructed the huge holding tank with an enormous overhead valve that all land owners were welcome to use, filling the community water truck, until their own wells were in, and a spigot was supplied to fill up containers during camping stays. Once the truck was later switched to fire use only, those with prohibitively deep water tables still found getting wells in problematic -- one (ironically, named Waterson) alone had three costly drilling misses -- and so formed Property Owners Without Water, or POWW, and got another water truck together.
Closing down the quasi community well
In 1980, it came to light by county health, on the wings of steeper California water-use laws, that the unofficial, never-sanctioned community well was, in fact, technically illegal. Plus, the water truck wasn't certified for delivering potable water. Department head Dr. Bayuk promptly capped the 26-residence club membership with an iron fist. He told us at a specially called meeting, held at then board president John Shelton's house on Gilman Road, that he had discretionary powers and would let current POWW members -- but only POWW members -- continue drawing from the well and haul water to their homes. This was in light of so many members having sold former homes and bought or built here on the strength of realtors’ assurance there was a community well so one needn’t bring in a well before building and the health department taking pity on them. The county building department went along with this code variance, or they wouldn't have issued so many building permits to well-less parcels.
However, he now insisted all others drill an approved well before they could get a septic and building permit and, thus, official blessing to actually live on their properties. Leastwise, not for more than 30 days a year without being made to feel one was overstaying their welcome by ever-vigilant, often distant, 'neighbors' forever wound up trying to keep the uninvested rabble out. He hoped the POWW memberships, nontransferable to any subsequent home buyers, would fade away over time as people finally got their wells in, died, or their properties were sold to new owners, who'd then ostensibly have to prove a well before being allowed to move into the existing structure.
We were on our honor to comply, but inertia -- ridiculously strong in Vista's manana land -- reigned supreme. Some who were otherwise compliant, rather than spring for a well, became resigned to hauling water as the price one paid for living here affordably. And the fully non-compliant got used to hunkering down, hopefully below the radar of snoopy neighbors and the powers that be. People wanted to avoid spending a fortune on drilling efforts that might not even hit water, or good water, or enough water, plus the usually prohibitive expense of getting electric lines strung to power the well pumps.
While POWW membership's water-hauling rights were supposedly nontransferable, they were seldom -- if ever -- enforced. Decades later, there were still over a half dozen otherwise code-legal homes in one section alone which water hauling rights had ostensibly been voided ages earlier, through property ownership transfers, yet current owners were still merrily hauling away. The county apparently didn't like to mess with homes once they passed final inspection; the code enforcers' job had ended as far as they were concerned. Never told differently, many new homeowners assumed the water hauling rights were transferable.
Unfortunately this lent the impression to prospective new residents that one didn't need a well to be eligible for a building permit getting issued. It seemed like you could build first, then sometime down the road try for a well at your own convenience...or not. This misunderstanding and policy non-enforcement was destined to further add to the world of confusion for many future, would-be residents: "Hey, lots of residences never put in a well, but they got building permits; why can't I, huh?"
While Dr. Bayuk cautioned Vista board members to prevent anyone from using the well beyond POWW’s now-closed membership, efforts to control access proved sketchy to none. Naturally no one wanted to volunteer for guard duty, and fencing off and padlocking access was maybe seen as either unfeasible, impractical. or more work than anyone felt enough civic sense of duty to ever want to be saddled with.
Later, board members either lost track of the county order or simply turned a blind eye to it. Perhaps some felt the well represented the one thing property owners had successfully worked on together towards forging an actual community and so should remain available to all. Amid the ensuing confusion and contention, it somehow served as both a substantial and substantive visible reminder of the place's promising beginnings.
Hey, it comes with the property
Fast-forward decades and things were still out of control. Residents on the cheap, below radar and never intending to drill, kept using the well. They assumed it was an officially sanctioned community well and a permanent water-rights amenity that came with lot ownership.
A neighbor on Placone Road would make daily hot-summer drives for a teeming menagerie of thirsty livestock in his ancient Cadillac, backseat removed and crammed full, along with the trunk, with lidded five-gallon buckets and Jerry cans.
Some reportedly even copped showers there. Risking a quick shower at the well site, with sporadic traffic going by 60 feet away, was no doubt felt worth it for the chance to luxuriate in a fast cool down and rehydration on exotic 95-degree days. As some freer-minded dwellers in warmer weather went about with few to no clothes in the privacy of their remote properties, this wasn't as shocking at it might've seemed. It was the kind of place that, in other times and circumstances, might've made one dandy nudist colony.
Finally, Vista board members, led by then-president George Gosting, were fed up and fearful of getting fined by the state -- or well-owning residents, outraged how their annual dues were going to replace the pump and cover monthly power bills. They felt they were effectively subsidizing and enabling code noncompliance. So the board came up with a simple solution: just get rid of it. They sold it outright, no discussion or prior notice to association members. Done deal, end of story. Except for the unbridled fury of suddenly well-less, mostly fully non-compliant residents, left high and dry.
And they got sued anyhow, by an irate section 23 couple, Alex and Debbie Blume, who had an otherwise code-approved, but well-less, mobile dwelling on Stewart Road, on far-fetched racketeering charges. They'd perhaps leaned on the mistaken assumption that their home came with water-hauling rights from the well. They promptly lost the case and the lawyer got a NEW convertible Cadillac signed over as part payment.
“It’s all a big scam, I tell ya…”
Between earlier, fitfully enforced legal-residency codes and the end of the longtime community well, it must've seemed to non-compliant dwellers -- suddenly told to get a well or else -- that some intolerable building moratorium had been 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 both having such difficult water and for being in such remote hinterlands. And, again, the Vista seemed to be under its own dreamland spell; somehow it just felt beyond the pale of the world and all its sundry nit-picky rules and regulations. It was a realm unto itself, operating on its own unique frequency, penciling in a few rules as residents saw fit -- only suggestions at that.
So various land-hungry buyers on a shoestring, lured by bargain lands and not exercising due diligence, felt majorly scammed if roused by the county and concerned citizens and told they couldn’t live on their properties without first meeting steep code requirements. They’d accuse the Association board, management and realtors of either all being in cahoots or each shamelessly passing the buck, no one willing to offer the straight facts in the seeming unethical situation. It could appear they were churning the problematic, marginal properties for quick gain while keeping a hidden power hold over the place, preying on people's desire to own their own land, while fully aware that many buyers then intent on settling the parcels couldn't even begin to afford to meet residence requirements. Not short of winning the lottery or some rich old aunt dying.
The unending cycle, as uninformed parcel holders saw it: a lot sold after the realtor downplayed the legal problems of living on it as-is, maybe offering a wink as if to say the rules usually went unenforced; then the purchaser, disillusioned once getting hassled, quit paying their annual POA assessment; then the lot got foreclosed on and the Association, repossessing it, re-listed the parcel and realtors waited for next suc -- er, buyer -- to come along.
In later times, probably many buyers DID know the score and just didn’t care. In the changing social climate and sketchy enforcement, they were game to join Vista’s growing non-compliant population. It was further emboldened for the county having axed its residential-code enforcer position during a critical five year period starting in the Great Recession of 2008-09, then lacked teeth when brought back. And, anyhow, the county still considered the Vista a hopelessly intractable case, best ignored.
Such a situation lent the impression that most anything went on the remote lands.
Of course it was always Buyer Beware. But you’d think your more sporting realtors might’ve at least posted this sobering reminder over their doorways.
People with enough resources to maybe pay $30,000 or more to put in a well and perhaps half again as much to get power extended to the property also had enough to buy land -- and more than any piddly 2-½ acres -- with easier water access and unencumbered by the ceaseless squabblings of disaffected neighbors. Why would anyone spend a fortune to buy into such a discombobulated, sub-standard place?
Cheap land with million-dollar views could only go so far, after all.
Plenty of room left in Hotel California:
Trouble in River City revisited
Most if not all of Shasta Vista’s founding families had seemed to either know each other from down south or meet during earliest annual summer camping vacations on the lands. Retirement-age couples flush with cash from selling pricey city digs built most all of the first full-on legal residences. Territorial imperative being strong, they'd aimed to segue the one-time remote rustic camping lands into serving as their own de facto rural retirement community, let the chips fall where they may. (Theirs was a over-refined gentility with such pronounced buttoned down, la-de-dah, SoCal sensibilities that some, like writer, had always thought it surreally out of place at the top of more free wheeling northern California, even if in a conservative rural part of it.)
In ways that counted, the Vista had become their place, and their influence lingered for decades after they lost control of things in shaping the development's social climate. They'd spring to volunteer and serve on Vista’s board of directors, which ostensible main duty (some maintained only) in monthly meetings was deciding on budgeting road maintenance and keeping a handle on signage, plus address any member concerns brought to their attention by fellow owners.
These modern-day pioneers had experienced such unimaginably keen angst over seeing their place lose its would-be, respectable legitimate-community status once boldly non-compliant invaded their domain, they went bonkers. The board’s appointed duties expanded to include blowing the whistle to the county over any unapproved construction or camping visits that appeared to be leaning towards permanent residency.
Desperate to preserve their endangered Shangri-la, they rang the phones off the hook, reporting every last infraction discovered. Beside themselves, board members and their cohorts demanded county authorities hold any and all scofflaws’ feet to the fire for having so flagrantly tried sneaking into their law-abiding domain on the cheap.
If enforcers didn’t do their job and the non-compliant got away with it, it would've amounted to selective enforcement, possible grounds for a lawsuit against the county, And so for many years the stretched-thin code enforcers had dutifully obliged, trying their damnedest to stamp out the plague of noncompliance.
At some point they'd no doubt started grinding their teeth for having to keep dealing with such a major problem child...one whose situation, no matter how much they tried getting a handle on things, seemed to remain a bottomless cup of trouble. It was a boat springing new leaks faster than they could plug existing ones, and so any bailing efforts seemed futile.
No matter. Gone bonkers for their genial scene being so rudely violated, compliant residents had embraced law and order for all it was worth. Volunteer posses geared up and blitzed the land, patrolling the endless back roads and running to earth anyone daring to try to call the Vista home, yet ignore residential standards etched in stone. Whether it was willfully or in ignorance, no matter; the law was the law.
With their Whack-a-Mole efforts in overdrive, posse members often wouldn’t even talk to the culprits. They maybe tried earlier, some no doubt in an insufferably high-handed manner, and then got huffy when told what they could do with their regulations. They'd just drive by then, stopping briefly to scope the scene and ascertain the lot location, then later get the parcel assessment numbers from the master map index and call in a formal complaint...for every minutiae of noncompliance that the latest bloodhound efforts had revealed.
It was for such scorched earth campaigning that the unkind moniker of "the gestapo" was soon bestowed on the board by Vista's more live-and-let-live residents. Some of them had also gone through the compliance ordeal themselves and knew how unreasonably steep code demands were for those wanting to live in the middle of nowhere and simplify their lives. They were stunned such a ugly, zero-tolerance policy had erupted. Playing ruthless hardball somehow just didn't seem to go with living in the would-be tranquil realm. Even though the place had gotten woefully off track, one might've thought there had to be a better way to resolve matters. But maybe not, not short of changing the regulations.
Maybe the situation was so far gone that the only alternative was for compliant residents to accept their one-time Shangri-la was history. And that was unacceptable, even if it appeared to be more and more an obvious fact with each passing year. Like Egyptian fish, they lived in denial. As miserable consolation, they seemed to take a keen vengeful satisfaction in trying to make things as unpleasant as possible for anyone who'd dared to crash their party.
Driving around a neighboring section long ago, the writer one day met a high-spirited man and his pregnant partner on their parcel. He'd just thrown up a little makeshift two-story crackerbox palace of 2 X 4's and pressboard: instant home. A goat or two grazing contentedly on nearby brush. I returned with a sense of foreboding a month or two later. Sure enough, they were long gone. Their shelter had been bulldozed to the ground, looking like it'd been hit by a tornado.
It was far from an isolated incident.
One could say it was a person's own fault for not having first done better research on the local situation. Or that they obviously knew the score but had rolled the dice anyhow, thinking it was such cheap remote land it was worth trying to get away with.
In any event, many would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating a simple affordable backwoods lifestyle were obliterated during the Vista’s Intolerable Years, the period, again, roughly spanning from the mid 1970s through most of the 1990s. Here and there half-completed structures of varying ambition and construction skill stood, abandoned and forlorn, radioactive from code-violation busts or builders running out of cash trying to comply. In time some would get picked off by furtive lumber 'recyclers'. ("Hey, it's just going to waste; I'm doing a service.")
Vista’s seemingly affordable, easy-come, easy-go lands over the decades often instead proved to be more easy-come, hard-go.
Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista, now leave:
writer's first impressions
The large imposing signs planted at each of the place's five county road A-12 entrances, plus every section corner, made the board's policy crystal clear in large black lettering that shouted: HEALTH AND BUILDING CODES STRICTLY ENFORCED.
Woe betide any poor soul failing to heed such a clear warning.
So along came your land-hungry writer, a rambling, homeless 29 year-old, a would-be nature boy of threadbare means, burned out living on the road and having visions of building a bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. With champagne taste but a beer budget, I'd soon warm to the notion of building in the bone-dry yet unspoiled, super-affordable juniper lands instead of the redwood creekside of my dreams -- to blasted code if that’s what it took and meager resources and steep learning curve would allow. Though it proved the biggest project of my life up to then, at least lumber was fairly cheap and the building code a smidgen less onerous -- if then zealously enforced -- and costly to comply with. I planned to join the POWW's water-hauling group, thus avoiding having to drill a (likely) deep well that I couldn't' have even begun to afford.
To my impressionable mind, the growling entrance signs were of more than passing concern. Even if lots were cheap -- most listed then between $1,500 and $1,750. then, with easy terms of $250. down and $25./month at 7-1/2 % interest -- the place did appear more than a smidgen unfriendly somehow. To me the signage appeared 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 here.”
Or, more directly, like the sign posted in High Plains Drifter, “Welcome to Hell.”
On reading the further warning, in more huge lettering, “Private Property -- Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, part of me felt I might be arrested any second. It was as if I’d stumbled onto some top-secret government compound and should turn around while there was still time.
But, as was the case with countless land seekers on a shoestring, cheap lot prices won out over common sense and eclipsed any negative first impressions that were screaming red alert.
Such sign wording was naturally meant to discourage would-be substandard dwellings or, perish the thought, any white trailer trash, hop-headed bikers or scraggly hippie types from trying to settle. Also to dissuade any would-be wood poachers, outlaw game hunters, trash dumpers, vehicle abandoners -- or miscreants harboring designs of plundering goods trustingly left in trailers and mobile homes on briefly visited parcels. (Even decades later, with hundreds of residents spread over the land, a huge, 12 X 40 foot vacant mobile was once snatched in the dead of night from one lot and hauled two miles to another without consequence.)
Maybe they needed that loud bark.
...with screenplay by Rod Serling
But the working Chinese belief system of feng shui held that the given energy at an entrance sets up a vibration the given place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording indeed seemed to ripple outwards throughout the realm, especially when reinforced by similar huge warning signs planted at each section corner. Friends visiting me decades later, as if not wanting to tempt fate and risk having their vehicle impounded, parked it forward of the barking sign and then walked the entire way in, over a mile.
Entering the Vista for the first time could seem 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 the main entrance? After the writer was in due course treated to his own 'unwelcome wagon', he felt that it might just as well have read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Vista through Time
Conclusion of informal history
of the first fifty years of the Mount Shasta Vista development
"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only
when we know the path which has led to the present."
-- Adlai E. Stevenson
It came as no surprise that the Vista entrance sign's snarly energy was reflected in its monthly board meetings. Open to all parcel owners and family members, while proceedings were dull as dishwater sometimes, other times they were a caution. Gnarly shouting matches were not uncommon. Once a fistfight broke out on the floor.
It was as if the place was growing some deadly cancer that, left unchecked, would fatally metastasize. The tsunami waves of bickering among the malcontent dwellers was so overwhelming, it would've made rich fodder for the likes of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson: “Fear and Loathing in the Vista.”
The first residents must've felt something like earliest prospectors during the California Gold Rush. While briefly having diggings to themselves, intoxicated with their good fortune, things quickly turned to pandemonium once the flood of fellow seekers of the prized yellow stone descended en masse. Similarly, earliest Vistans luxuriated in having the domain all to themselves. They established their own lifestyle and had blind faith in the system, such as it was, to keep a semblance of fair-minded law and order. But, like the first miners, they'd soon get run over.
They'd become like so many mad King Lears, shouting imperious commands to the winds.
As more newcomers moved in, some opting to ignore code requirements, the firstcomers briefly still had the ball in their court, through established relations with county code enforcers and a lock on board membership. They ran with that ball, clinging onto it for dear life. They'd dismiss as idiots anyone at meetings who took exception to their hardball tactics; such people obviously didn't understand the dire gravity of the situation. Beyond desperate, their bottom line was that, come hell or high water, they had no choice; they had to do their damnedest to keep health and building codes rigorously enforced to prevent the fabric of their fledgling retirement community from unraveling.
Desolated and shocked beyond endurance, overbearing board members clad themselves in armor, mace and sword at the ready, prepared to engage in full-on, take-no-prisoners battles over enforcement. For a while at meetings, they tried to outright avoid public discussion on any potentially inflammatory matter by steamrolling their agenda through, mumbling “public comments?” out the side of their mouths before taking a fast vote. "Motion?...second?...all in favor...motion carried." They'd banked on newbies’ unfamiliarity with formal meeting procedure. Shouts of protest once concerned newbie residents realized their sneaky maneuver were countered by simpering yells from board supporters: “Robert's Rules! Robert's Rules!”
Despite all, the well-heeled firstcomers’ dream of building a conventional backwoods retirement Shangri-la was turning into a nightmare. The Vista was coming apart at the seams before their very eyes.
As more and more settled in the junipers and sagebrush -- many of such modest means and with such free-spirited natures that the notion of building to code wasn't ever considered -- the country's code-enforcement officers' responsiveness reached a tipping point. Beyond that, they were unable and/or unwilling to enforce the codes and ordinances (the very ones that people living in town, nowhere to hide, perforce toed the line on). This despite being duly appraised and constantly updated of the dire situation by the seething mad legal residency haranguing them with each new found infraction and demanding swift response. The prospect of taking an early retirement must've started looking good to some.
So it happened that eventually authorities all but abandoned code enforcement efforts inside the misbegotten realm. One got the impression they liked to pretend it simply didn't exist. (Not unlike the place's scofflaw dwellers towards their residential ordinances). That is, beyond the county's property tax collectors' and property assessors' unfailing attention to each and every parcel and what improvements if any, were made, so they could squeeze a few more shekels out of its annual property taxes.
Before the tipping point was reached, it seemed the only responses made, other than for actual emergencies, were to the most persistent calls from fuming parties who knew the law and had perhaps threatened legal action if they didn't respond. They'd become such pains, it became easier to drag themselves out and tell the culprits, "Hey, you can't be doing this, you'd better stop or else; we mean it" and hope the admonishment would stick. Sometimes a sheriff deputy would accompany them to back things up. Some scofflaws would then indeed clear out, their fantasy of easy cheap country living gone bust. But others, more hardened, kept right on living the way they were on their parcels. They felt that inertia and property rights, plus county enforcement resources being overwhelmed, would ultimately win the war, and increasingly they proved themselves right.
White bread outpost?
Though some might've experienced mixed feelings towards firstcomers' intolerance over substandard construction and sanitation and baldly aggressive reactions, one couldn't help but sympathize with their plight. What a heartbreaking situation it must've been, seeing the place they'd had such high hopes for to enjoy their golden years irretrievably slip away. (Perhaps not too unlike a predestined romance, shorting out for one party being asleep at the wheel at the critical moment.) The Vista could’ve, should've, would've been such a nicely settled, enviable, law-abiding backwoods community...
...if still only a white bread one.
For while in later years at least absentee ownership appeared to become racially diverse judging by the file list of owner names, actual residents in 2014 -- numbering yet only perhaps 300 or 350 -- were overwhelmingly white. While there were a few Hispanics, there were few to no Black, Asian, or Native Americans. Growing up in the polyglot melting pot of San Francisco, the writer didn’t find anything too amiss about this -- other than wincing whenever a neighbor dropped the ‘n’ word in casual conversation (or later, the 'c' word). I’d learned to pretty much adapt to any ethnic mix -- or lack thereof -- in a place, given an even playing field and no one bearing expedient intents and then using the race card to obscure the situation.
The scene perhaps reflected rural Siskiyou county as a whole, so predominantly white that it might've appeared to be -- not without some truth -- a narrow minded, passively racist backwater to any people of color arriving from large melting-pot cities with their relatively mutual racial tolerance, inclusivity and everyday intercultural mingling.*
*One might say it wasn't prejudice alone that would later, starting in 2015, make the Vista's overwhelmingly white population so generally unwelcoming to minority members. There's a natural inclination of any like-minded ethnic group to stick together in easy familiarity over time, and so be slow to adapt to any sudden major change in the ethnic make-up. There would be a steep learning curve at play -- one fraught with potential for mutual suspicion and misunderstanding. That said, a willingness to be law abiding could go a long ways towards helping the process along.
A more diverse Vista residency from the start might've made the place a more culturally rich and thriving development, such as it was. But it was all moot; Wonderbread it was for a full half century.
Anyone respecting the rule of law held that a development needed its residents to work together on some level and follow the county's and state's rules to keep things generally safe and pleasant -- the acid test being one’s children -- for those committing to hang their hats there. Otherwise, weeds of civic indifference and scofflaw attitudes could spring up, filling a social vacuum and choking the place's livability.
However, it could make simple country living all but impossible if ordinances were TOO strict, too expensive, too onerous for the majority to ever conform to. As the poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, noting this eternal dance in The Prophet: “You delight in laying down laws / Yet you delight more in breaking them.”
It appeared there was a fine line between having enough rules and regulations to keep some semblance of fair-minded order and having too many and courting sure rebellion. In any event, again, developer Collins would never have gotten the Vista development greenlit if he hadn't set up the CC&Rs to reflect every buyer legally agreeing to observe county, state and federal rules, laws and ordinances on signing the title paperwork.
But the rush of having one’s own land in such a relatively remote region could so easily obscure the reality of there being any county or state regulations TO conform to. There wasn't anyone around to say 'boo' -- especially after the county abandoned residential code-enforcement in a drastic budget-slashing measure for several critical years in the 2010's.
“I say we got Trouble...with a capital ‘T’...”
Writer's own tale
In October 1978 I snapped up a nice, gently sloping lot with inspiring mountain view, for $1,750., with an easy $250. down. I'd get by for eleven years with kerosene lamps and candles before at last going solar in 1989, when solar panels still cost ten times more than now, not even adjusting for inflation. (A one-by-four foot, 50 watt panel was over $400.)
It was an early fall, so I set up a quick camp. While days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures already plunged to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F. During my first morning after overnighting, an older man driving by -- not part of the official board posse, but nonetheless wound up -- spotted me heating coffee water and defrosting myself over a tiny rock-lined campfire in a clearing some 30 feet from the road. He slammed his brakes, climbed out, and stood there, pointedly looking at the fire.
“You got a permit for that?” he demanded. Thus spoken were my first words of welcome from the would-be community before I could even get in my first sip of morning coffee. They weren't reassuring.
Fast forward six weeks and I'd apparently waited too long to apply for my building permit -- and, crucially, first join the POWW water-truck club in lieu of drilling a well to be able to qualify for a permit. As a result, I was destined to get the full "Unwelcome Wagon" treatment from sundry busybodies in the development that, I began to more fully appreciate, was more than just a little squirrelly around the edges.
While having intended to conform all along, if reluctantly, being a fairly timid, Walter Mitty type, law-abiding citizen (but also having a contrary, intellectually radical streak), I'd been gearing up slowly and carefully. Over winter, I planned to research tiny home design, study construction methods and building codes, then draw up tentative designs to submit in spring. I was staying in a half-mile distant, 12-by-16 foot cabin kindhearted neighbors, leaving as the pleasant season wound down, had taken pity on my situation and offered to let me, a total stranger, winter in.
This so I wouldn’t freeze to death camping in my tent, as I'd first resolved, wanting to stay on my brand-new land and future homeland no matter what. Cold alone could be endured with my extreme-weather bedding and a jury-rigged wood stove in the tent (not recommended). But unbeknownst to me, the region was notorious for windstorms of such magnitude they beggared description. Coming out of nowhere, they'd roar across the land like a runaway freight. Seventy to eighty mph wind speeds were not uncommon, and in the late 1980s we were hit with a storm with 100 mph gusts.
December weather assaults kept blowing my tent down no matter how tightly I tried securing the guy ropes. When it collapsed yet again in the middle of a howling blizzard one night, I finally surrendered. Grateful I had such an option, the next morning my black cat and I moved into the vacated cabin. Thereafter I made the quarter-mile hike each day to work on my place, clearing brush, roughing in a roadway and building an earth-sheltered storage shed that would become my legal onsite construction shelter once finally securing a building permit.
Before I moved, though, I was to experience the full heat of unknown intolerant neighbors. It seemed that ever-vigilant Vista board members and their cohorts had established a pipeline with local realtors for every Vista parcel sale made. Distant neighbors soon learned some rambling upstart of obviously modest means had dared to sneak into their domain, assumably with no intention of ever paying the piper. My Strout realtor informed me later that while admitting he'd just sold a lot to a young long-hair, he'd refused to divulge or where or to whom.
I thought that sporting.
Now a determined posse was hot on the trail of the latest scofflaw, systematically combing the endless back roads in search. Weeks later they finally tracked my place down when I wasn’t home. They took one look at my thrown-together, mostly underground shed and a verboten outhouse and duly reported me to the county health department. They didn’t know -- or, I suspect, care-- that I had earnest intentions to start building to code come spring.
The scorched-earth policy allowed no such wiggle room. Equal opportunity hasslers, anyone and everyone non-compliant was duly thrown under the bus.
Summoned onto the carpet of then head county health department honcho, Dr. Bayuk, I got the full bum's rush. I wan't even allowed to explain my intent to comply. Assuming the worst, he was loaded for bear and so duly read me the riot act. He and gave me 120 days to get compliant by installing a septic system -- even though I wouldn’t have a cabin to connect to it for years -- and build a temporary outhouse over it, or he'd see to it that I'd be thrown off my land. “And don’t think I won’t!”, he growled, shaking his head, jowls shaking like Nixon's. He no doubt thought I needed an extra dose of fear to get properly motivated.
The only reason he'd worked with me at all was because, at the last moment, another kindhearted neighbor had come forward. She had explained how they’d promised to let me join the by-then membership-capped water truck club when I was ready to build. So he'd grudgingly allowed me to become the final and twenty-sixth member.
Being thin-skinned, the stressful experience happening within months of my arrival loaded with keen expectations totally traumatized me. Before the last minute reprieve, I'd pretty much given up on the place. Devastated and demoralized, at age 29 I appeared to be gearing up to fade away into yet another homeless sunset. Instead, though fondest hopes and dreams by then felt hopelessly mangled, I dredged up some reserve willpower, paid the $125 water-truck membership fee and became determined to invest the required time, money and effort to get legal and squared away over time. I'd then at least be able to live on the land with a modicum of dignity and salvage some peace of mind.
I passed the perc test and dug and installed an approved septic system. As per agreement, I built an outhouse over the top of the buried, inspected tank and leach field. In part for the benefit of any busybody driving by to check out the latest almost-bust, maybe hoping to find some new reportable offense, I painted on the side facing the road in bold blue letters, “Welcome Halley's Comet in 1984.” That should baffle 'em, I thought. I then built another outhouse more to my liking, a low affair cleverly disguised as a doghouse, water bowl and leash in front. No one ever discovered the ruse.
Over a leisurely three and a half years I built a code-approved, 1½ story, solar-tempered little-big cabin, using only hand tools. I hired help for the open-beam roofing and electrical and scrounged recycled lumber whenever possible. It appeared I was indeed on the verge of becoming a tenuously respectable resident. Not that I was any longer interested in being accepted as such. It was like the classic Groucho Marx quip made over a restrictive country club's finally offering him a membership despite being Jewish: I didn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. It'd be decades before I'd warm to the board and learn to appreciate its potential, at least, to do good for the chronically floundering, perpetually at odds with itself, would-be community.
Working under the gun of county code enforcers -- who I felt were trading notes with ever-wary Vista board members and their minions -- was so depressing it drove me to drink. I'd learn firsthand how board members and their guard had a special gift for radicalizing the place's denizens in their hell-bent campaign to either return the place to some semblance of its former glory days or, in total frustration, at least try to demand a pound of flesh from anyone not compliant. It felt as if the place was caught up in a negative reactionary spiral, trapped in a contention-drenched, never-ending time loop of contention.
On the wings of getting the new shelter signed off in early 1983, I was still a timid if rebellious 33 year-old. One by now thoroughly disenchanted with the Vista's imperious, would-be overlords.
I soon got into worse trouble. It seems I'd decided to celebrate the return of Halley’s Comet by hosting a rainbow family camp on my land.
In 1984, the annual national alternative-culture rainbow family gathering event was going be held in California for the first time ever since its start, some 12 years earlier. It was to be held somewhere in an area a two hour drive away in the Warner Mountains wilderness, in the remote northeast corner of the state. Come spring a flood of psyched early-comers, some returning for the first time in decades to their coming-of-age, countercultural roots, would begin pouring in from everywhere, including overseas. Many would have nowhere to go until the public-forest site was determined, months away yet.
Wanting to reconnect with my roots while evening the ledger for all the countless people who'd helped me when I was on the road -- plus thinking to maybe liberate the incredibly stodgy development a tad -- I opened up my land and resources to all comers for the next five months. Like the Vistan firstcomers who built homes amidst an ostensible rec-land development indifferent to what troubles it might create, I was equally determined to let the chips fall where they may.
I solemnly tendered my invite by letter to the rainbow steering committee, then holding monthly steering committee meetings in far away Chico. Word spread fast, and though never recognized or supported as an official rainbow camp for being held on private land, for months hundreds of earlycomer wired spirits, often in colorful, glad-rag garb and sometimes outlandish rigs, traipsed in and out of the buttoned-down-and-proud Vista hinterlands. Rainbow elders set up three 28-foot yurts -- formerly part of the Seattle area's controversial Love Family spiritual sect -- on the parcel's back acre. "There's your UFO, Stuart," one told me as the central yurt went up; earlier I'd mentioned how I'd always hoped a scout ship might land on the parcel. I'd named the land Earth Base, after a Seattle fire station that transformed into a community center and was renamed Earth Station. Earth Base it was for years thereafter. In a way, the scene felt a little like the animated feature Yellow Submarine when the Beatles' triumphant music turned the dreary frozen black-and-white world into technicolor.
Predictably, my terminally convention-minded neighbors (again, most most living miles away), had a veritable conniption fit. While a few more liberal-minded retirees seemed tickled by it all, possibly rebels at heart who didn't see anything too threatening about the ongoing scene, most wanted none of it. No free-spirited long-hairs, with all their flagrant pot-smoking (then still very much illegal), shameless nudity, and unsettling tribal drumming long into the night, not in their one-time Shangri-la now going to rack and ruin, thank you. One family per parcel; that was one Vista rule etched in stone. (Claims of “Hey, we ARE one family” wouldn't cut much ice.)
Frothing at the mouth, they reported me to every enforcement agency they could think of: county sheriff; health, planning and building departments; fire marshal; probably the dog catcher... But, saving grace, earlier I’d coordinated a meeting between then county sheriff Charlie Byrd and rainbow elders, to be held on my land. Law enforcement was keen to learn what they might be in for with 33,000 rainbow celebrants (as it turned out), soon to flood their turf. The sheriff, reassured our ragtag group seemed a basically harmless if freaky bunch (apart from gleefully ignoring pot laws), causing only a temporary glitch in the terminally dull, conventional order of things, must've told my apoplectic neighbors to basically just chill a while, grit their teeth, that it'd soon be over. Jaws no doubt dropped.
The system was failing them yet again.
The writer liked to think the ensuing free-spirited scene helped break the ice of the Vista's long-oppressive atmosphere, even if at the risk of possibly encouraging anarchy to gain a permanent foothold. Rebellious offspring of various outraged residents had visited the scene and loved it; the scene became part of Vista lore.
It seemed that over time the place would swing from one extreme to the other: From firstcomers' honeymoon period, happy campers giddy over the endless possibilities of their pristine lands to ruthless, law-and-order minded "No this, no that, don't even think about it" intolerance", then back to "Whoopee, anything goes!" albeit of a more scofflaw variety.
Gone eleven months of the year
The firstcomers' control-freak stance was, again, in part born of feeling the strong need to post serious signs everywhere to try protecting the place and left belongings while living 700 miles away some 11 months of the year. Mischief-minded locals, resenting the sudden bogarting of their former stomping grounds, had been having a hell-for-leather field day during their long absences...which of course got visiting owners spitting-nails mad in return, their hoped for carefree vacation anticipated all year met with shocking reality check.
Clearly, the locales had other ideas. They'd mounted a rebellious, "You may think it's your land, but it's still ours and we'll never recognize this damn place" campaign. The endless miles of ungated, groomed backroads were ideal for dirt bikers to gouge deep donuts in. And various, more delinquent-minded youth couldn't resist engaging in more spirited hell raising, stealing and vandalizing at will. Unruly youth -- absorbing the angry sentiments of their redneck parents and carrying on a proud tradition -- had geared up a protracted war with the foreign la-la-landers who'd dared to try appropriating their wilderness playground and grazing land. Law enforcement could only do so much trying to work with the mostly absent owners, there being maybe at most a single overseer watching over seven square miles of property off season and the actual land owner needing to report any incident to get an investigation.
By the time civic-minded lot owners started living on their parcels and joining the larger community, attending church services, some enrolling kids in the local schools and joining PTAs, it almost seemed too late to reverse such a long-established vicious circle. Alas, dislike and suspicion of the Vista and its lot owners appeared permanently ingrained in the DNA of many locals, their kids, their grandkids...
“Permit? We ain’t got no permit...
I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”
As related, through the ‘80s and ‘90s the county's health and building ordinances were by and large still strictly enforced. Unless one didn’t mind being deemed an outlaw and never earning recognition or acceptance as an “official” resident -- in time, it seemed more and more wouldn't mind at all -- landowners hoping to become respectable residents tried to comply. Or at least provide the illusion of complying: "See here? I've started my well; I'm fifty feet down and waiting on my next paycheck to drill deeper, cut me some slack here, will ya? (Hope he's buying this.)"
After the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hit and devastated the economy, county supervisors had to make some real tough budget cuts. Among other actions they axed the position of the residential-code enforcer. It seemed to be having little effect anyhow -- leastwise in the Vista. The place was so far gone by then, calling it a lost cause almost seemed like an understatement.
Over the next half decade, residential-code enforcement essentially disappeared from the Vista. With no official telling you anything different, it was easier than ever for newcomers to foster the notion they could do whatever the heck they wanted on their parcels. The threatening signs that had been erected everywhere were by now seriously biodegrading, the words dire warnings fading into illegibility. They now lent the place the air of being some forlorn, all but abandoned, rural ghost settlement living out a zombie half-life in total obscurity.
No legal power to fine;
Can a place center without a center?
Other subdivisions that had formed in the region about the same time had wanted to assure having the best chance of establishing a respectable residency. Accordingly, they gave the property-owner boards legal power to levy fines for infractions of agreed-on rules. If not paid they could slap legal liens on a culprit's property that had to be paid before land could freely change hands. Examples: in Lake Shastina visible clotheslines, solid fencing and dirt bikes were all verboten; in Shasta Forest, one could get fined fifty dollars for changing oil on their own property, even if capturing every drop for recycling.
No such legal powers ever existed in the Vista.
This had always been the place's two-edged sword. While its relative lack of sometimes nit-picky, overreaching rules and regulations (or enforcement thereof) empowered residents to feel more like lords and ladies of the manor, as it were, such freedom could also attract those with clearly scofflaw intentions, wanting to exploit the land and thereby disturbing the place's treasured peace and quiet. Example: the place long ago had a monumental junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by yet-pristine, wooded lots; it took the board ages to get the county to condemn it and the place cleaned up.
It basically came down to giving people the freedom to do what they wanted so long as their actions didn’t interfere with the rights of others to do what they wanted. Liberty vs. license. The flip side of liberty was, of course, the obligation to support the rules of law set up to safeguard the freedom rights of the greatest number. (That the rules sometimes seemed to distinctly favor the interests of the wealthier class at the expense of others forever getting the short end of the stick was no doubt what made people want to rebel.)
Few parcel holders -- especially absentee, but even some residents -- ever felt a need to build a community center. So the Vista never built one. Though its population had grown enough to merit it, there was never enough community interest to create such a practical facility: a place where residents and visiting members could meet, get to know each other, in a central, neutral, relaxed setting, form informal volunteer action groups, like litter patrol, start community gardens, hold swap meets... and hold the monthly board meetings, open to all owners and their families, right in the Vista rather than, as a kindness, next door in a fire station backroom.
But it was long held in this cramped, cold-fluorescent-lit backroom space, off Vista property. And the annual property owner meetings were held some ten miles away, in Lake Shastina, one having to walk through the golf club's bar lounge littered with buzzed tee junkies to reach the conference room. (In earliest years they were held hundreds of miles away, at places like, many members’ then favorite, the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, to make it easier for the dominant southern California ownership to attend.)
It seemed impossible for a quasi community to ever gain a sense of centeredness without such a center. Have to leave the place to attend the monthly meeting? Drive ten miles to attend its annual meeting? It struck more than a few as too weird and reflected the place's discombobulation as much as anything.
“Wouldn’t give you a dime...” vs. “Only $29,999!”
As said, due to the place’s sundry shortcomings the sale values of parcels stalled out for decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Interest in the parcels took the meaning of 'soft market' to a new low. Until 2015, unimproved two-to-three acre lots went begging at $5,000. Lacking any easier water, septic systems or electricity, or any more can-do, fair-minded, empowered board and appropriate CC&Rs, the place shouted, "Beware! Failed subdivision!"
It just didn’t strike many as an inviting place to want to drop anchor. Only those enjoying roughing it for a while, or relishing the novelty of owning their own piece of California. Or those determined to live on the cheap, who wouldn't lose any sleep over being non-compliant, "Screw the System" being their motto. Or those renting houses and mobiles from code-compliant owners who'd moved away, for affordability more than anything, and tried their best to tune out the gnarly politics. Or long-timers who'd known the place in kinder times and had sunk such deep roots they were braced to weather changes that made most others move away.
Long ago I met a former realtor who said of the properties with a heated disdain apparently then common in various property peddling circles, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them!” He said it with such vehemence, like the realm was sitting on top of a radioactive waste dump or something, that it made one wonder if maybe he and his colleagues had skirted ugly, protracted lawsuits for misrepresenting the properties, or endured some other such unpleasantness that made it not worth the paltry commission fees closing such low-end parcels generated.
Eventually, though, two out-of-region realtor groups thought differently. Specializing in scouting rural developments deemed undervalued, in the late 2000s they snapped up hundreds of the bedeviled hinterland's parcels for cheap, properties that had long laid fallow (at least relieving many long-stuck or more recently-stuck parcel owners). Then they mounted slick sales campaigns to try to remedy the under-exploited situation, hoping to make a mint.
The first outfit was called National Recreational Properties, Inc.. It hired former "CHiPs" TV star Erik Estrada to serve as their uber aggressive pitchman. Out of Irvine (possibly the same town as Vista founder Collins), it apparently had a penchant for going after failed, “left-for-dead” subdivisions, their sharp talons squeezing out any easy quick profit before swooping off to the next rural roadkill. In ad promos "the Ponch" shamelessly enthused how the place was so great he even owned a parcel himself. (He was of course given it as part of the deal, just so he could truthfully say that.)
The outfit reportedly offered to fly prospective buyers in to enjoy a champagne brunch along with the big pitch and a grand tour of the prime properties that offered such rich solitude and dazzling mountain views. When they held a grand open house, balloons festooning highway entrances, rumor had it no one even showed up. (They were more successful with their Alturas, California area development, California Pines, which boasted over 15,000 one-acre parcels, each demanding the installation of a pricey, engineer-designed septic system, which of course hindered its development.)
A few years later, around 2012, another group, Billyland.com, likewise grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels, possibly taking some lots off the former's hands. They, in turn, seemed to be aiming at land-hungry Internet surfers. They'd hawk parcels online, eBay auction style, the 'winner' being the one having made the highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they gushed. (With low monthly payments and high interest rate, final costs could run well over $50,000.) Their campaign attracted many living on a shoestring, some soon to grow a few cannabis plants, no doubt in part to try to make land payments and so avoid losing what various legal residents, perhaps uncharitably, viewed as basically private campgrounds for the homeless. (As of late 2022, they were still trying to hawk a lot or two at $80,000, hopeful the right sucker was out there.)
By 2015, according to county records the Vista had a grand total of some 80 legally permitted residences. Out of 1,640 parcels, that was one in twenty, or five percent. The rest -- some 1,556 lots, or 95%, -- either held unpermitted dwellings, were once informally lived on and since vacated, or, most commonly, still as relatively pristine as the day the place launched a half century before (minus various scars of tree poachers and careless off-roaders).
Hope sprang eternal for some of the current speculative landholders still thinking to make a bundle. They set a ridiculously inflated price with the realtor, thinking to snag some eager land-hungry buyer with more money than sense, oblivious to the depressed market and the development's long festering problems: "Secluded", "Perfect spot to build that dream home!", etc. Once, during the early teens, a sale to a woman was about to finalize. She was taking one last look at the parcel before signing when a next door, scofflaw resident, determined to keep out 'the wrong kind of people', strode out to the road nearby, buck naked, and started prancing about. It worked; the deal fell through.
“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”
It was no secret the county supervisors rued the day they ever greenlit the woebegone development. One former Vista board president stalwart, Jeannette Hook, worked with county officials in her career. She said they viewed the Vista as "the red-headed stepchild no one knew what to do with."
Meanwhile, the place, having no fining power, was, short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, totally at the total mercy of county officials and enforcers to keep intact whatever shreds of respect for the rule of law yet remained.
But the huge, mostly rural county, on an overstretched budget and often understaffed, gave up trying to deal with the forsaken realm. Responsible enforcement and policy-making parties grew numb to the perpetual thorn in their side. They tried to forget its legal residency paid their salaries through annual county property taxes and, not unreasonably, expected them to earn their keep.
Despite -- or because of -- the number of non-compliant dwellers increasing, they still wouldn't respond, short of an actual emergency. They knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. County officials kept kicking the can down the road on automatic pilot, determined to avoid dealing with the fool's errand of a place whenever humanly possible...
...until the day of reckoning came.
In the spring of 2015, a sudden flood of growers, anticipating the eminent tidal wave of legalized recreational cannabis use in California, poured in out of nowhere, snapping up parcels like the bargain-basement steals they were.
It appeared to catch everyone flatfooted, asleep at the switch, out to lunch, name your metaphor... "No one could've possibly predicted such a thing would happen" said one official to media, head firmly stuck in the sand.
Studious ignoring of the development's long-term plight -- born of a rural county too poor, provincial-minded and/or lackadaisical to keep up with changing times or enforce its own ordinances and regulations, should people for any reason opt to ignore them -- had been careening on a collision course with reality for ages...
...until avoiding dealing with it finally proved itself to be something of an unwarranted luxury.
Fifth century B.C. Chinese philosophy Lao Tse said that the cause of anything is everything and the cause of everything is anything. It'd be unfair and over-simplistic to try to pin the blame for what happened in the realm on any one cause or party.
There was an extraordinarily daunting combination of cascading factors at play over time, countless ingredients in the place's sure recipe for disaster.
A brief recap on the major contributing factors:
Seller to the land developer didn't get first permission from the rest of the long-time owning Martin family, establishing a contentious and shaky foundation from the very start
Surrounding locals resented the place ever being allowed to develop, possibly including some county supervisor members who'd vote against its formation (ostensibly for lack of water)
The ambitious efforts of first settlers, each providing their own well, electrical hookup, etc., weren't followed by most future dwellers, despite this being crucial to ever becoming a recognized, standard community which residents could take some pride in
A sea of indifferent absentee owners, often mere speculators, countless soon nursing serious buyer remorse yet unable to unload the clunker parcels and so loathe to sink another cent in the place
The firebrand property owners board, along with other heavily invested, first-comer residents, reacting to the rash of scofflaw residents determined to live on lots without conforming to code, declaring open war on them and throwing them all under the bus, thereby creating an incredibly contentious social climate for decades
Expedient-minded realtors, not caring what one intended to do with their lot
Uninvolved association managers and sometimes board presidents, indifferent to or ineffective in helping more civic-minded residents make the place more livable and even participating in the eventual realty boom sparked in large part by legalized cannabis
County officials in time all but abandoning enforcement of the building code and state health regulations for a half decade
More and more free-minded residents deeming the home building-code standards too complicated and expensive for simple country living and so worthy of being ignored
Mix together and bake 50 years. Result? One giant question mark of a place that the public still shakes its head over and dismisses as a hopeless mess defying all comprehension.
Was it any wonder the Vista became such a basket case? All along it seemed as if it was perhaps vying for a 'Most Dysfunctional Rural Development' award in some bizarro alternate universe.
Countless influences -- some possibly not even touched on here -- led the Vista to become the way it is now: a former shared recreational land forever trying to be something more, despite the cards being stacked against it from the start...
...and, people being people, and the Vista being the Vista, is still trying to...any way it can.
An Independent Stewart Springs watchdog, tribute & blog site since 2011