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An insider look at 
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years: 

1965 - 2015 
  Informal history of the one-time recreational development
and its 
futile effort to morph into a standard rural community

 

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by Stuart Ward

Note: This page has nothing to do with Stewart Springs, which site its in. It's about writer's long-time home front across the valley from the Springs, and it needed a home, is all.

 

(To return to Springs site any time, click back-page-arrow key)

 

Shorter versions of parts 1, 2 and 3 were first published

in the now-zombied Mt. Shasta Herald on 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 ages long before, it was then to discover even greater depths as a haven for unsanctioned commercial cannabis growing. The following seven-part 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...and on so many levels. It blends a crazy-quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences, anecdotes, and a nuanced analysis of why the place derailed so spectacularly. It tries to give the reasons the beleaguered realm had always been hard-pressed to find much saving grace. 

  

 Ward, a Vista resident since 1978, served as a volunteer board member and co-started an ephemeral official Vista website, online from 2012 to 2014. In 1984, he hosted a controversial rainbow family 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

 

[Part 1]

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, wood lettering. Surrounded by inviting trees on either side, visitors driving under it might've felt they were maybe entering some mysterious enchanted realm.

 

That welcoming sign amid trees, both now long gone, imparted a certain grace to the entrance of the rural development begun in the mid 1960s. One felt the love and attention going into its creation. The touch showed how earliest property owners -- then only visiting summers from distant cities to camp out -- 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, so smitten by its charms had been some of the repeat vacationers. This despite the almost total absence of infrastructure city dwellers took for granted. This pronounced lack, perhaps more than anything, kept it from ever making a successful transformation to being 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 by the would-be community's pioneers, it would shift into a kind of permanent, bizarre limbo land, perpetually at war with itself once becoming an incongruous oil and water mix of legal residences and decidedly non-code shelters. As a result, the place was in perennial hot water with the local powers that be -- the county health and building departments in particular, along with the community at large, which resented its very existence and relegated it an undesirable place to live. It became a place at perpetual odds with itself while forever being put down by others. 

 

That the shared vacation lands originally had no aspirations to ever be anything more was indicated by its simple boilerplate CC&Rs. And its association status: it was a POA, a Property Owners Association, not an HOA, or Home Owners Association. Just a Good Sam’s Club, of sorts, tucked away out in the boonies. An unassuming rural development offering weary city dwellers a mess of mostly secluded private campground parcels to enjoy unwinding in.

 

A sea of turn-key wilderness camping 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, count 'em -- and a labyrinthine 66-mile network of modest cinder roads and signage to access them.

 

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.

 

Profound solitude

The realm was situated a few miles uphill and east of the also-new exurb of Lake Shastina. The majority of lots offered a rich sense of quiet and seclusion (or isolation, depending on one's mindset), existing as most 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 juniper trees and sagebrush and 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. 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  had conjured up often whimsical road names, hoping 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 county for over a century. Before white settlers, indigenous peoples had seasonally hunted through the area; writer found a complete obsidian arrowhead on his parcel the very first week.

 

The story went that when one 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 bit ticked off over the commercial nonsense soon afoot in their now-lost ancestral holding they'd no doubt preferred to keep preserved from development. They of course aired their grievances to the region's fellow residents, building up community displeasure clear to the halls of local government, so livid was their flinty blanket condemnation of the development they were suddenly stuck with -- years before respectable lot owners ever aspired to segue the primitive rec lands into a de facto, very 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 an earlier, yet to be filed, date of incorporation, August 18, 1965.

_________________

 

Locals grumbled over how their longtime backwoods hunting, camping and grazing haven got closed off just so a bunch of city folk could lollygag about in their shiny Airstreams a few weeks a year.

 

Adding to the festering controversy: the county's board of supervisors, some no doubt siding with the aggrieved Martin family members and incensed locals, reportedly almost denied greenlighting it. For the record, the hesitation was over lack of water, plus for being often rocky, volcanic land that couldn't support conventional septic systems, should owners ever want to build on their lots. Off the record, it seemed some didn't want the place, period. Such non-supportive sentiments no doubt spread throughout every county department eventually.

 

Thus an already incredibly contentious situation was well on its way to snowballing out of control. 

 

A few years later, when the handful of adventurous owners after many vacations became keen on the idea of actually retiring on their properties, they started settling on the recreational parcels lock, stock and barrel. Dutifully law abiding, each would first drill an approved well, get power lines extended and install a regulation septic system, thereby supplying all their own infrastructure needs, before then building homes to code. In the meantime most lived elsewhere. On the surface at least it looked as though the place was slowly on its way to becoming a respectable -- if ultra sparse -- rural community...

 

...until not long after, a growing stream of less solvent and more free-spirited parcel buyers -- likewise attracted to the secluded, unspoiled lots with irresistibly low prices -- descended on the place. They were intent on ignoring codes and regulations (assuming they even knew about them); they figured what they did on such remote parcels out in the middle of nowhere was their own business. Some were instant homesteaders, moving onto their lots before the ink on the paperwork was dry.

 

That's when all hell really broke loose. 

 

The place's already gnarly vibe, first from negative outside forces and now from within as well, would go into warp drive. Dutifully code-compliant residents became unhinged, fairly frothing at the mouth. The snowball of contentious forces was growing to such monstrous proportions it seemed maybe some demonic force had taken hold of the place, one destined to permanently bedevil the would-be tranquil realm. 

 

Over time, between the (1) teeth-gnashing, conforming residents, on the warpath over the incipient plague of non-compliant dwellers; (2) rebellious scofflaw residents, taking the heat and kicking back hard; (3) 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 for the place having gone so awry; (4) put-upon county authorities, over time essentially giving up even trying to enforce health and building codes; and (5) embittered farming/ranching community, viewing the inhabitants through distorted fun-house mirrors as a weird, invasive mix of irascible hillbillies and imperious city exiles ...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 hovered over the otherwise serene high desert woodlands like so many storm clouds, forever threatening to rain on the parade of all, code-legal and non-compliant alike. 

 

No matter how many future residents would over time dedicate themselves to try turning things around and salvage the development's seeming early promise,  it appeared the place would never amount to more than being a stalled-out recreational development that miserably failed to ever evolve into a standard, recognized community...or even the faintest facsimile thereof.

 

In realtors' stark parlance, the place became road kill.

 

Down the rabbit hole

The more free-wheeling, non-compliant dwellers destined to populate the briefly-respectable place were jumping down the rabbit hole into their own private world  that the rarefied land energies could so easily inspire.  Soon enjoying their own wild Mad Hatter tea parties all but oblivious to the outside world and its innumerable regulations they'd gleefully opted to ignore, they dismissed as mostly impotent ravings the rants of the Red Queen in the guise of the largely powerless property owners' board, and its supporters, all screaming, "It's build to code or off with their heads!"

 

Continuing with this Alice in Wonderland analogy a bit: Standing in for both the hookah-smoking caterpillar and Cheshire cat was, again, the stony, spiraling vortex energies of massive Mount Shasta. The backwoods of  Mt. Shasta Vista, 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 went so far as to claim Mount Shasta was the root chakra of the entire planet, most everyone at least agreed  it emanated some very palpable, mysterious and powerful energy which 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 felt too strongly for comfort and to live close would show disrespect to Spirit.)

 

In any event, being under the mountain's influence could induce some pretty wild fantasies, if not outright hallucinations. It might all but erase from mind any pesky notions of dutifully following society's conventional rules. When the non-code living scene started  taking off by people definitely not their kind, code-compliant dwellers (perhaps more immune to succumbing to its exotic influences) were shocked senseless; they saw their fledgling, upscale-rustic community that they'd banked such high hopes on in gravest peril.

 

If they didn't scramble to stem the tide and demand the county enforce its health and building codes, all would be lost...their nascent tranquil 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 try to restore law and order in the by-then beleaguered wonderland.

 

Time, of course, proved the valiant struggle to rescue the place a losing battle. As said, eventually residency code enforcement efforts would be all but abandoned by county authorities. Stunned, code-compliant retiree residents were devastated over county government's seeming inability and/or unwillingness to any more effectively enforce codes they'd deemed written in stone.

 

They were left spitting-nails mad, fit to be tied, frothing at the mouth, pick your metaphor.

 

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 parcel soon ended up being one giant, messy, mix of code-approved homes and 'outlaw' dwellings. (Plus the occasional die-hard visiting owner hoping to avoid the downer of polarized politics and still enjoy camping on the land as originally intended.)

 

The place appeared to have gotten hopelessly snared between worlds. Soon skitzy in its reason for being, all along it had been an unwanted child, lacking 'parental' support from county and local community alike. Its residents and visiting owners, feeling the love (not) and anarchistic energies  emerging, were left to constantly squabble among themselves. The Vista became frozen in time, nursing a serious identity crisis and denied ever finding a rightful place in the sun.

 

Emboldened by realm's remoteness

Despite such a daunting load of handicaps, over time it seemed there was always a trickle of buyers keen on moving onto the remote, oft-maligned, but cheap land.  Beyond the investors feeling stuck with their holdings in the now arrested development; disinterested speculators hoping to make a fast buck; and those still content to simply retreat on their parcels now and then -- beyond these were land-hungry people burned out on the high cost and hassles of city living and so readily seduced by such affordable properties. Especially those on a tight budget,looking for cheap country land to drop anchor on. If 'between homes', then instantly; such hoped to be left alone to live invisibly 'between the cracks' of society's costly living standards. While some like the writer would grudgingly conform to building code, others, blissfully ignorant of (or studiously ignoring) the mundane, city-centric regulations trying to be enforced deep in the boonies, held more of a "What code? You're kidding, right?" attitude. One couldn't blame them; people, unless masochists, naturally like things to be simple and easy.

 

Some among 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, a realm far removed from mundane realities; (2) its by then mostly abandoned original use intent and the emerging proto community of home owners, which created enough confusion, chaos and uncertainty to take ready advantage of; and (3) in time, 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 -- after the first few battles had been fought and won.

 

Some early casual owner-builders -- labeled ""violators", "illegal residents" and perhaps the unkindest cut, 'squatters' -- moved in with a casual air of "Hey, what's the big deal? We're just building a little shelter on our land in the  middle of nowhere; c'mon, you're not serious." In time, knowing something of the place's code-conformity battle, but also of the increasingly spotty enforcement, other newbies made bold and went on the offensive, moving into hauled-in, unconnected trailers and mobile homes or building ramshackle shelters with a brazen attitude of "Hee, hee, what're you goin' to do about it, huh?"  Or like screaming eagles: "This was still America last time I checked; this is my land, so I'll do whatever I damn well please on it;  you better back off if you know what's good for you."

 

Time warp

Eventually, non-code construction and living in unapproved, utility-unconnected mobile homes became more or less epidemic. Unconventional structures sprang up like  mushrooms after a heavy rain.  While a few dwellings were artful, others were void of any charm except perhaps to their inhabitants. It was as though such dwellers were time-warping back to the pioneer era when plains settlers built primitive earth-sheltered soddies and forest settlers threw together rude log cabins. As if late in the twentieth century the development had somehow magically become a latter-day frontier. One far removed from modern times and all its dratted spirit-stifling regulations over how one was supposed to live on their own land.

 

In time, certain dwellers  -- feeling light years removed from dependable, responsive law enforcement save for most serious matters (a 45 minute wait time wasn't 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 who exercised 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 the pioneer era's Forty Acres and a Mule government giveaway. The parcels proved so invitingly cheap, any normally felt need for due diligence 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 over how they'd enjoy their new secluded woodlands seemingly safely hidden away beyond modern times' slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

 

Add to them the inevitable parcel flippers who also grabbed them, imagining how they'd move them up the realty food chain in no time flat and make some easy money.

 

It appeared many first-generation settlers, 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 management nonexistent, and no more than maybe ten percent of the parcels ever got connected to the power grid. While this 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 while -- it was flirting with sure disaster when more and more resource-shy, would-be residents rolled the dice and dropped anchor 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 a long, irreversible decline from being the fledgling standard rural community its respectable residents briefly enjoyed to a seemingly anything-goes, scofflaw outback the county would soon throw up its hands over in commingled despair and disgust.

 

Onerous building code & the owner-builder

Such unsanctioned home structures flourished in the 1980s and 1990s. More and more, buyers bent on settling their lots appeared to lack the funds and/ or willingness to build anything to code. Freer spirits considered building requirements ridiculously over-complicated, needlessly intrusive and exorbitantly costly. As if they only reflected the cushy living standard of the more affluent strata of society that imperiously demanded everyone dance to their tune. But hoping to avoid such stringent codes -- and the inflated lifestyles of would-be upward mobiles tempted to live beyond their means and soon drown in debt -- was the very reason so many moved to the Vista in the first place: to get back to basics, to live more simply and within one's means.

 

It was one thing to have a few reasonable guidelines in place to avoid getting unsightly, flimsy owner-built structures that could blow over in the first strong wind and to ensure critical hygienic standards, another entirely to insist one living on their own private 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 a grass roots effort led by a group of outraged Mendocino county, California, rural owner-builders to establish less onerous building requirements. It 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 state 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 still in place albeit weakening, a more rebellious scofflaw attitude was emerging. 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 and pay for the privilege. (Though on a much smaller scale, in some circles playing "beat the code" became 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, "This is my property and I'll do what 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 all too clear to Vista parcel holders, an intense love-hate relationship with the land emerged -- especially among those who'd hoped to actually settle on their lots and enjoy some much sought for rural seclusion and peace and quiet. It was "Buy in haste, regret at leisure", a sad, familiar song. Lured by the rural development's cheap parcels, the buyer realized that, if wanting to make use of the place beyond just camping on it up to 30 days a year and avoid being deemed an illegal resident, the serious lack of infrastructure would require shelling out a small fortune.

 

It was like ten-cent parcels having a hidden million-dollar spoiler attached.

 

For the same or related reasons, parcels became an albatross around the necks of investors, speculators and vacationers alike. Their holdings were no longer part of a dedicated, simple recreational development once various homes started going up, and they were unable to sell them at a profit anymore 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, teeth-gnashing resident. Their ears soon singed as the disenchanted party warmed to their task, raking the place over the coals with a sometimes demonic intensity.

 

It was a buyer-remorse pattern destined to be repeated over the decades by untold numbers.

 

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 new would-be residents and investors alike. The latter thought to flip the obviously under-priced parcels while the former were blind to mundane concerns like conforming to the then strictly-enforced building code -- that is, until,out of the blue it bit them on the backside and they instantly joined the full-throated chorus of disillusioned parcel holders.

 

Lots practically sold themselves

In fairness to the developer, the parcels were originally offered only as primitive camp lands, nothing more. It was all upfront and legal. They were marketed as simple places of retreat for weary city dwellers wanting to rough it and enjoy refuge on their own piece of relatively unspoiled nature now and then. Developer Collins had maybe sensed he needn't invest any more time, money or effort in the project than he did in order to move the lots, having created a simple wilderness co-op 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 exact scrawled bearings.

 

If so, he was right. It appeared the enthusiasm over the chance to spend spring, summer, or maybe a 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 also attracted many who had zero personal camping interest -- arguably, the majority. They snapped up the parcels primarily as a long-term investment or short-term speculation, imagining others -- not them, thank you -- would  soon be clamoring to enjoy such secluded, affordable rural properties. Yet others, though primarily speculating, might sample their 'wilderness time-shares' a time or two beforehand out of curiosity of what they'd bought. Maybe the land then grabbed some and they changed their minds, flirting with the idea of building a vacation cabin or even a residence sometime down the road. For some it was, if nothing else, something to leave the grandkids. 

 

Again, no infrastructure besides a reliable nearby water source was needed to fulfill the place's original purpose. The minority who intended to visit and enjoy the lots were psyched at the prospect of roughing it on their very own backwoods land. They'd revel in the realm's at times pronounced peace and quiet and the charm of the then yet relatively intact high desert woodlands ecosystem.  

 

As far as things went, on the surface everything appeared hunky dory at first. It was easy to be blissfully ignorant of the festering, behind the scene controversy brewing over the place's very existence and locals' abiding ax-grinding resentment of it being in their backyard crimping their long-accustomed lifestyle (many being descendants of the region's pioneer settlers)...not to mention the county powers that barely greenlit the place and had been warily looking at it askance ever since, like some lemon vehicle they'd bought against their better judgement and were now stuck with.

 

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, others from the Bay Area and the Central Valley -- buyers pitching tents and rolling in their travel trailers to the region's inviting seclusion, fresh air and inspiring mountain views.  

 

The terrain was high desert woodlands. Though powerful seasonal windstorms -- roaring through it due to the massive mountain displacing and intensifying strong winds -- could prove treacherous, the place generally enjoyed an enviable banana belt climate. It offered often-delightful springs and falls. While summers were hot and often bone dry,  there were plenty of junipers trees and the few scattered pines for inviting shade. And, at least some years, an occasional summer thunderstorm to cool things off. Adventurous residents in the west end of section 7 lived a modest hike away from a cross-country irrigation canal to dunk in. And in hot weather the mountain’s spectacular northern glacier-clad side could do wonders keeping one feeling cooler just gazing on its chilled splendor.

 

"Bye 'n' bye" came fast

Significantly, it seemed that developer Collins -- responding to growing owner enthusiasm for extended camping stays in those first years -- couldn't resist throwing out an bold idea: the parcels might make dandy places to retire to "bye 'n' bye."  He relayed this exact notion in passing in the official Vista newsletter that was periodically sent to every member and avidly read by the small segment of involved co-owners of the new low-key wilderness outpost so neatly tucked away at the central top of the golden state, the regal crown of Mount Shasta offering its blessing.

 

Since practically next door Lake Shastina sprang up a couple years later (initially as a second-home vacation community), bye 'n' bye came fast. It gave a handful of so-minded Vistan landholders the impetus to follow suit 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 either nearby Weed or the City of Mt. Shasta due to the region's phenomenal crazy-quilt of micro-climates, again, largely the mountain's doing. Usually just enough powder 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 of never-plowed roads. (Long ago, the place tried plowing after a rare heavy snowfall; the equipment blade tore up the cinder roadbeds so badly, requiring such expensive and laborious repair work, it proved impractical; everyone was on their own.)

 

Con su permiso:

dealing with the building code

Of course, it was understood it was up to each would-be resident to spring for the cost of getting power lines extended, drilling an approved well and installing an approved septic system -- all before the county would deign to issue a building permit...and even then only after submission and approval of exacting plans that met every code requirement and pay for it based on its square footage. Only then did it allow one the option of living on the land in an onsite trailer, mobile or shed during the construction phase. (While construction was expected to advance "in a timely manner", the writer stretched his own home-building project to 42 months.)

 

Only then would the post office assign the lot a legal street address (or, technically, release the already existing one assigned by county planning to every last recorded parcel), thus enabling one to receive mail at the blacktop entrance boxes.  Such an address was also needed to obtain a state driver's license, register to vote, or qualify for FedEx, UPS and OnTrac home deliveries.

 

As one might suspect, the extensive health and building codes included maddeningly detailed particulars for everything: 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 the submitted plan would prove structurally sound and otherwise meet all general specs. As said, most early Vista owner-builders, having hired contractors to do most or all the construction, didn't move onto their properties until building was completed and given the official county blessing by being duly signed off after a final inspection and thus 'green-tagged' for legal occupation.

 

While the Uniform Building Code had been around in the U.S. since 1915, enforcement for ages was no doubt relaxed to nonexistent in your more rural areas. Primary focus was concentrated on crowded cities, with all 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 shoddy results and even tragedy for the eventual inhabitants. Accommodating the relatively few rural owner builders was never a concern, as the founder of the UBC, Rudolf Miller, himself stated early on, never envisioning the new regulations to be applied to rural owner-builders:  “…[W]hen buildings are comparatively small, are far apart, and their use is limited to the owners and builders of them, so that, in case of failure of any kind that are not a source of danger to others, no necessity for building restriction would exist [emphasis added]"  His commonsense view was obviously abandoned over time as average living densities increased and government’s bureaucratic powers grew exponentially.

So it was that for a long while country property owners could more or less build cabins and cottages to suit themselves, at their leisure, even play it by ear, overall design maybe emerging only half-way through, if even then. It was their rural land and so, naturally, they'd enjoy the freedom to build whatever they wanted on it. But with bureaucratic regulations' tendency to be adopted by ever greater numbers over time (cynics might say spreading like a cancer), until at last universalized, government authorities came to try insisting that the same exhaustive guidelines adhered to in teeming cities be followed deep in the furthest reaches of rural regions like Siskiyou County on one's secluded property out in the middle of nowhere.

 

It was having such unreasonably heavy-handed, intrusive ordinances in place that would, over time, cause the eventual erosion of respect for certain areas of the rule of law for more than a few Vista property owners.

 

Priced to move

Parcels were priced to move. Writer seems to remember reading in the Vistascope newsletter archives how they initially went for between $750. and $975. each (in 1969 dollars, worth almost twice as much in 2023 dollars), 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 his urban development ventures; he could afford to be generous. He appeared to hold a genuine affection for the place, actually joining others in camping on the land every summer. He no doubt wanted lot sales to feel like the feel-good bargains they were (if for rec use only). 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 first-generation, short, 4X4 inch, wooden road sign posts painted yellow with stenciled black lettering, many soon camouflaged by the fast-growing sagebrush.

 

No doubt all kinds of first-generation buyers purchased the lots for all kinds of reasons. But, again, countless snapped them up out of pure speculation: "Hey, they're not making any more land."  Some doubtless never set foot on them, let alone camp on them. Though some were indeed psyched at the prospect of enjoying their own campground, and/or maybe saw them as something to enjoy on retirement or leave the family, 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 by the notion of owning such (by then) popular recreational properties in the fabled Mount Shasta region.

 

That or, as instead happened, the place segued into a thin, de facto community...one that might've actually succeeded and thrived, indeed driving up parcel prices, had every would-be resident taken responsibility for meeting their own infrastructure needs before building to code, as had most all the first wave of actual residents.

 

Obviously that didn't happen. Pouring such heavy investment into primitive, cheap land seemed counter-intuitive. Or something done only by people reaching retirement age and flush with cash from selling their big city homes; having a big savings nest egg; or the willingness (and eligibility) to take on major debt -- and, of course, the mindset to deal with all the time-consuming, hoop-jumping bureaucratic process of building to code. Understandably, their vision didn't elicit any ringing endorsements from the less solvent -- many of whom moved onto their new lots immediately --  why else buy them? They'd maybe have only 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 materials or small lumber yard splurge and call it okey dokey.

 

It seemed like cheap land and cheap shelters were often quite happy together.

 

Earliest investors and speculators of course never anticipated this major wrinkle of the soon-to-emerge epidemic of noncompliance. Between hearing about the full-on code-legal homes springing up and developer Collins talking up a rosy picture over the place's bright future, they assumed everyone would build to code. What had started as simple vacation lands would evolve into something far greater, promising juicy returns indeed.

 

Convinced they'd made a smart move, investors, imagining a growing community, sat back and waited for things to progress. Some joined in and likewise built on their property to live in a while before selling at a hopefully nice profit or even decided to stay. But most peculators and long-term investors, in contrast, having little or no interest in ever getting involved with the place, simply waited  patiently for parcel prices to take off.*

 

_________________________

 

* They'd only have to wait half a century. Parcel values would in 2015 start a dizzying flight to the moon: values of unimproved lots would skyrocket from $5,000 to over $150,000 by 2021. This was the combined result of a national red-hot realty market and the place's discovery by underground cannabis growers anticipating California legalizing recreational pot and the largely unenforceable restrictions that would decriminalize unsanctioned commercial grows to a misdemeanor (the only western state to do so), making eventual sporadic busts often (but not always) little more hassle than getting a traffic ticket. Lots would sell like crazy for reasons totally unrelated to any infrastructure build-up, still almost nil; formal development plans, still nonexistent; or desirability as a nice place to put down roots for all but a few.

 

The startling phenomenon was fully in keeping with the chronic, 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 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 might 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 returning to its default bone-dry conditions.  

___________________

 

In the Vista's late sixties' start, every one of the lots was snapped up inside of 18 months. This fact belies a later common assumption the developer had somehow been stuck with parcels that 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 all who valued rustic seclusion and the inspiring mountain views, had deal-breaker shortcomings, and in time became a drug on the market. Despite being offered cheaply compared to most other similar regional properties, they still often found few takers once its bizarre pedigree -- rife with an often gnarly, contentious atmosphere, daunting lack of infrastructure, and prohibitive cost of gaining then well-enforced code compliance -- became fairly common knowledge. 

 

Yet no one felt stuck with them during the soon wayward bound place's momentous first years. An historic back-to-nature movement was ratcheting into high gear. A minority of Vistan 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, relatively well-heeled, retiring residents -- saw in the sprawling rural development something of a veritable backwoods paradise.

 

Excited in discovering such an affordable wonderland to vacation at, maybe retire in, or, at the least, a sure-fire speculation, everyone and their uncle was tumbling down the rabbit hole.

 
 
 

The Vista Thru Time
1965-2015
[Part 2]

 

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 the relative water scarcity, was that the Vista, born a simple recreational development, had never hammered out a master plan for residential growth, there being none until years after its launch, when mostly older repeat camp visitors, retired or planning to, decided to build residences on their parcels.

 

As a result, 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 certain disaster without extensive revision being undertaken. Such a re-imagined plan was crucial if it hoped to provide an avenue for building out a community with any rhyme or reason, providing guardrails to steer the development in agreed on directions by board members and other involved parcel owners.

 

It might've created, for instance, legal powers for the volunteer governing board to fine owners for infractions to agreed-on standards, thus (ideally) working to maintain a certain desired standard of living and lifestyle. This would've enabled putting a lien on one's ownership title for chronic blowing off of a payment for an infraction and so worked to establish an at least grudging respect for the rule of law, and so work to minimize scofflaw behavior by property owners.

 

Of course this is always a two-edged sword. As pointed out in the periodical The Week, quoting Sarah Holder in Bloomberg, "About 74 million people in the U.S. live in community associations, mostly HOAs, [home owner associations] which create their own regulations meant to keep behavior polite, aesthetics consistent, and property values high."  But "...the rules can be capricious and penalties for violations steep...One Colorado couple, Jose and Lupita Mendoza, say that a series of minor violations, like failing to remove a dead tree, snowballed into the HOA's foreclosing on their home despite their never missing a mortgage payment."

 

In any event, without any overarching plan for residential growth, no vision beyond standard boilerplate gobbledygook, Mt. Shasta Vista was left always having to swim upstream against strong currents, subject to the vagaries of the place's latest owners' sometimes arbitrary druthers. Any effort by a fitful, rotating flock of civic-minded dwellers to transform the place from its primitive beginnings into an actual residential community, one that its dwellers might take some pride in rather than simply "use', ultimately proved an exercise in futility.


Interest flatlines

Again, with so many parcel owners absentee and seldom, if ever, visiting, from the very start it seemed most title holders were simply betting on the place and the hoped for actions of the few -- initially the minority of owners who'vacationed here, and, later, the even smaller number who actually drop anchor, both of whom would naturally be inclined to work to further the place along and increase their lots' desirability and, hence, the place's overall market value. Meanwhile, they'd just sit back and let others do all the heavy lifting. At some point, they'd either begin enjoying the place themselves or (more likely) cash in and make a nice chunk of change for their troubles.

 

It would prove more troubles than they could have ever imagined. Holders were destined to lose heart in droves not long after the development's early promising burst of improvement efforts by the first wave of older, retiring residents. By the early 1970s, visiting repeat campers and residents-to-be had rallied and pulled together to establish an informal community well off Juniper Drive. It had an enormous holding tank with giant overhead valve for rapidly filling water trucks, and also included a garden spigot, thus serving 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 their anticipated or already begun dwellings. (Covered in detail in part 6.) A long mobile home was pulled in in which to hold the first few, state-mandated monthly volunteer-board meetings.

 

After this flurry of activity, enthusiasm for group efforts seemed to run out of steam. New residents would switch gears and scramble to each carve out their own backwoods mini-kingdom.

 

As earlycomers built the first county-approved dwellings, the place was -- momentously -- shifting from shared camp land to the beginnings of an actual community. Albeit one spread so thinly amidst the vast acreage that dwellings might've appeared surreally misplaced to any impressionable visitor cruising the labyrinth of backroads, nothing but trees and bush until rounding a bend and a full-on house and developed estate jumped out at them. 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 too 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 -- one its residents poured personal fortunes and much blood, sweat and tears into -- was in immanent peril. Without updating the CC&Rs or every future would-be resident at least toeing the line and meeting all county health and building code requirements -- made difficult and extra pricey for the pronounced lack of easy water and power and waste disposal means -- the place seemed at an insurmountable impasse. It would be stymied at every turn, despite whatever efforts were made by the scattered code-compliant residency to morph it into a normal, recognized rural community. Or, again, even the faintest facsimile thereof.

 

At one point early on, the association's few residents had actually gotten it together to appoint volunteer block captains for each of the seven vast sections. They worked to keep informed of all the goings on in their respective sections, driving around and getting 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 any action seemed warranted. This phase of organized grass roots government showed that, despite the growing set of unfortunate circumstances, there was a strong sense of community and cohesion among the earliest residency. Even if their primary motivation was perhaps only to try nipping in the bud any health and building code violations going on, it at least showed some sort of civic-minded spirit, albeit an exclusive-minded one. One that might've served the place well in the long run had it ever evolved from being a punitive, reactive, law-and-order policing effort into a more positive, fair-minded, cooperative one. But that wasn't going to happen.

 

Such rudimentary grass roots efforts in time all but disappeared, victim of -- as they saw it -- too many barbarians storming the gates. While such invaders boldly occupied various newly purchased parcels and defied anyone to do anything about it, an eventually overwhelmed and under-motivated county code enforcement staff, plus the non-empowered property owner board, seemed unable to do too much about it in the long run.

 

The result: the minority, flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants legal residency found itself between the devil and the deep blue sea.

 

White elephant time forgot

With such a daunting series of snafus and resulting chaos, most outside interest in the wayward development flatlined for decades. After it outgrew its originally intended purely recreational use but then stalled trying to segue into something more by accepted standards on the wing, parcel values were lucky to keep up with inflation. 

 

The development became an unmanageable white elephant of odd lots. More trouble than they were worth trying to move and earn a paltry commission to the thinking of many regional realtors.

 

It was perhaps not unlike other failed rural subdivisions California developers once hatched over time. Like the controversial 15,287 one-acre lots of California Pines outside Alturas, in the northeast corner of the state. Or California City, "America's Largest Abandoned City," 204 square miles (launched within a month of the Vista)all platted out and roads made in the treeless Mojave Desert. Like them, the arrested rec-land of Shasta Vista was destined to become yet another place that time forgot...or tried to.

 

Eventually this suited the few actual few residents just fine -- those who'd stayed despite all or had bought later on. Various dwellers, while doing their level best to ignore the unsettling politics, grew accustomed to the rich solitude and relished the park-like setting which had first inspired its brief incarnation as a popular co-op campground. So few residents and 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 besides 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 to live here legally found few 'respectable' interested parties.

 

Again, it didn't help sales efforts any how the place had from its very start gotten such a bad rap, being bitterly resented by the farming and ranching locals for crowding their long accustomed rural lifestyle with urban energy, and, so, seen as forever problematic by a provincial-minded county government.  

 

They 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 boondoggle, even so; in a dime, in a dollar. They doubled down, paying the piper in the guise of the ever-increasing annual road assessment through gritted teeth, determined not to lose their shirts on what they had first thought a sure bet. In denial, they kept believing the investments would surely pay off some day. (And, indeed, those who clung to them forever, or had bought them relatively recently, made out like bandits when prices at long last started going through the roof in 2015.)

 

After ages, finally convinced the place had zero chance of ever pulling itself together, many finally bit the bullet. As fed up owners unloaded their clunkers en masse, cheap raw parcels flooded the market.

 

There were often often few takers, even so. This, despite the modest $1,200 to $1,750 asking price and easy terms offered. Those who did snap them up were often only themselves other disinterested professional investors making small side bets on the place, parking a bit of extra cash a while, knowing the right suc -- er, buyer -- would eventually come along. Or yet other, uninformed casual investors, infected with the latest errant round of speculation fever: "It was such a ridiculously low price, I couldn't resist." Or die hard optimists, thinking they'd enjoy the parcels themselves once the place got itself together, or at the very least they'd have something interesting to leave their families (and then let them figure out what to do with the clunkers).

 

But beyond such calculated dice rolling, impulsive moves, and optimistic, "some day" purchasing were, again, the relative few who were psyched to actually move onto the parcels. To them, the lots were pure catnip. Some were eager to make like Thoreau, living simply on the land and let the rest of the world go by.  Maybe in time establish home businesses or commute to work from the properties as the place became a bedroom community of sorts. A very few were still willing to build to code and thus fulfill their age-old dream of abandoning urban life and becoming respectable country gentry.

 

Others -- entirely too many to the thinking of the foaming-at-the-mouth segment of code-legal residents -- seemed like they were only looking for a cheap place to hide away, looking to avoid city rent with its steep first and last plus security deposit costs, some probably dodging child support, maybe even an outstanding arrest warrant or two. Even if it meant drastically downscaling one's lifestyle and hauling in an aging mobile home or trailer, setting up a tent, or fashioning some ramshackle structure from scrounged materials on the fly and generating cesspools (at best) for waste -- and, of course, hauling in every last drop of water. Then either fire up generators or go without go-juice. (Even if a power line teasingly skirted their properties, it couldn't be hooked up to a structure without first satisfying the long list of code requirements.)

 

They'd cross their fingers and hope the powers that be would let them be. With strict law and order thinking and enforcement still holding sway during the first decades of the place, there was fat chance of that happening.

 

Round and round...

And so the mirage of the Mt. Shasta Shangri-la, dreamy backwoods realm, undervalued and under-exploited, kept proving irresistible to all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. As it seduced detached speculators, hopeful investors and would-be residents alike, a distinct pattern of owner relationship with the parcels emerged.

 

Sporadic cycles of short-lived buying mania followed by long-term absence of any interest whatsoever seemed to become 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. Their ephemeral fantasies soon played out and abandoned, a long succession of initially jazzed owners and casual small investors over time lost all interest in the lots or belief in their potential profitability. Some parcels doubtless changed hands over half a dozen times over the half century, always attracting a new flock of buyers powerless to resist grabbing such bargain land in such a picturesque setting...a place to all appearances safely hidden away from the all-to-frequent bothersome ways of so-called 'civilization.'

 

As said, the mountain in the place's very backyard appeared to emanate a powerful, almost palpable yet undefinable force. Those embracing new-age mindsets felt it could work to over-stimulate a person's upper chakras if not better grounded on arrival. The thinking went that such people, coming from distant urban places where lower-chakra energies dominated and upper chakras atrophied, suddenly had their imaginations and visualizing powers royally over-amped. Under the mountain's enticing spell, the mind reeled, bursting with excited fantasies of what all they'd do with the properties they snagged for a song.

 

In a way, it was maybe California dreamin' full tilt.

 

And so the forlorn development kept spinning round and round on its own little short-boom-long-bust merry-go-round. Riders reached out 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 "road kill" properties supplied the calliope's shrill if hypnotic tune.

 

Stymied by disinterested and soured speculators/investors

It probably can't be overstated: Seriously competing with the litany of all the place's other problems -- water scarcity, lack of electricity, absence of development plans, resentful locals putting a whammy on the place, and the high cost of code compliance -- was the enormous detached force of the sea of absentee lot owners.They had invested or speculated in the place and over time became largely indifferent to the relative few residents' realities and concerns, realizing they were stuck with soft-market lemons that required annual shelling out through the road assessment; it left them feeling nickel and dimed to death. Such a feeling of pronounced buyer remorse undermined even the most determined efforts of civic minded residents to try salvaging the realm and move it forward to some solid footing to become a functional community. 

 

All other problems aside, how could the Vista ever grow with so many of the 90% absentee owners harboring such indifference, apathetic to the notion of doing anything to help right-side the floundering development? Not if it meant sinking more money through proposed special assessments to fund community projects. Not even if such projects would tend to increase parcel values, making the place more desirable to live in and visit and thus make the parcels easier to move at a profit, so put off were they by the rudderless ship of a subdivision as a whole.

 

Countless lot owners lost whatever faith they might've once held for the place and its potential to be anything more then a chaotic, sub-standard, infrastructure-shy disaster area -- which, perversely,  many of its few residents almost seemed to prefer it being, if  only for in effect having to themselves worlds of undeveloped, park-like land all around them.

 

Not another cent...

Those who'd opted to keep the all but unsaleable parcels despite everything (or tried to unload them but couldn't at a decent price), 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 on the roads, so why the hell should I have to pay for their upkeep, huh?"

 

For what it was worth, the annual 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 2023 it would grow to $240; while having become a bit ouchy, it was still by far among the cheapest.) No matter. They still felt bled. Shook down for the latest assessment every fall, many no doubt felt akin to trailer park mobile home owners, the structures theirs but then having to keep paying rent on the space they perched lest they get grabbed away through foreclosure.

 

Cynics thought the whole set-up smacked of maybe 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 of the realty world's colorful parlance -- the association often suffered late annual payments and nonpayments.  Initial optimism for the place having long ago evaporated and absentee owners protesting having to pony up every year, the wording on annual billing statements grew a mite testy in time. Key words in large boldface letters defied ignoring the association's demand for prompt payment: "PAY WITHIN 30 DAYS TO AVOID SEVERE PENALTY OR FORECLOSURE."  Things were a far cry from the former lighthearted communication tenor with its spiels of carefree vacations on charmed lands. The situation had taken on a decidedly hard and desperate edge. The reason: Board members were left 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 angry visiting owners hounding them to get on the ball. 

 

Such chilly exhortations only seemed to encourage some to finally blow off paying altogether. "They're daring me not to pay, huh? Well hell, maybe I'll just take them up on that; 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' would be a more appropriate name for the place...mumble grumble..."

 

Sometimes iffy roads

As more people moved in and the endless cinder roads got more wear and tear, the one-man road manager was often left unable to service them all, or in a timely fashion. And perhaps none anywhere up the immaculate zen standards of earlier times of far fewer residents, when the country back roads were so pleasant to drive on at a mosey while drinking in the unspoiled tranquil scenery (and irresistible to 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 only the day before.

 

Again, this in turn caused various owners to protest paying for roads that weren't kept up -- leastwise not theirs  -- the lion's share of effort going to the most heavily trafficked. Like the most problematic one, the long and steep uphill stretch of Perla Road at the start of Section 13 by Sheep Rock; 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 only to get stuck in deep sand on the home stretch and forced to call a tow truck, raised a ruckus. Rightly furious, they held the association board's feet to the fire, demanding they cover the tow bill. This ire would at last bestir the board members to address the more neglected roads in the charming but woebegone realm's least visited hinterlands -- and raise the annual assessment fee to cover the increased work load and rising material prices, wages, insurance, workman's comp, gas...

 

Problems like these didn't make for happy campers.

 

This in dramatic contrast to the first visiting owners who'd relished camping on their lands and the many who soon moved onto them with infectious high spirits. That was, of course, during the extraordinary "God is alive, magic is afoot" times of the late '60s and early '70s -- a time when waves of feel-good 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 north of Yreka was born similarly, recycling tree-harvested lands into rec lots to solitude-hungry city folk.) But many parcels, largely left undisturbed for ages, remained part of a rich, fragile high-desert woodlands ecosystem. They could feel enchanted to anyone appreciating their subtle, undisturbed charm, those who didn't always need towering trees and crystal streams to embrace nature. The land held inviting groves of mature junipers, some with almost DayGlo-green moss on the north side of aging ones; furry lichen growing on deep-shaded rocks; riots of tiny colorful wildflowers in spring and early summer; occasional stands of tall pine; and dramatic rock outcroppings, sometimes perched on by mountain lions on the lookout for the deer that occasionally meandered through.

 

All lent select areas something of a rarefied atmosphere inviting one to wax poetic over. It could feel like the place where time stood still.

 

Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, often profound quietude, plus a giddy sense of freedom for being in such secluded back country, reigned over by the majestic mountain...all combined to inspire repeat vacation visits from afar. Enough to in time move some to want to permanently chuck city living and retire here so they could enjoy the tranquility and seclusion of country living full-time. Thus, in the late sixties and early seventies the place briefly became something of a respectable residential Shangri-la to every nature-loving retiree making the giant leap...and having the bucks to build according to their accustomed lifestyle, which, happily, more or less dovetailed with the stringent and then rigorously enforced health and building code requirements.

 

That said, legend had it that the very earliest comers in the mid to late sixties -- among them one structure on White Drive, another on Heinzelman Drive --  hadn't even needed building permits to construct a simple cabin and full-on home, respectively. Code enforcement had apparently yet to establish a solid foothold in the more remote hinterlands of the sparsely settled county. If true, this possibly set a precedent for subsequent owner-builders feeling they needed no more than their own permission to build on their lots. And the building department was stuck forever playing catch-up, saying in effect, "Hey, you really do need a permit now...no, we mean it. Seriously...(And maybe to themselves: I don't necessarily agree with the policy, mind you, but, hey, it's part of my job to enforce it.)"

 

No more sketchy subdivisions

Between 1970 and 1972 California would pass a flurry of landmark regulations covering all 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 and its higher standards -- whenever a law-abiding owner wanted to build an approved shelter on their one-time campground parcel, bereft of infrastructure.

 

As related, would-be Vistan homesteaders had to jump through all kinds of complicated, time-consuming, expensive hoops to earn the right to legally 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 shell out another small fortune to get electrical lines strung to one's property. (Code at the time allowed for one to build without being made to hook up to the grid if the construction was under a quarter mile from existing power lines, should they opt to, but still had to wire according to code.)

 

Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere, anyhow?

To build or not build community

Maybe county officials 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, residents too had better things to do than foster dubious notions of community. Polarized energies would discourage it at every turn. Bowling alone was in. More people seemed to move here expressly to do their own thing and be left the hell alone. Hermits united (or disunited). Often they'd at most only reluctantly try working together. A visit to a monthly board meeting, where the place's  chronic buzz-saw, contentious dysfunctionality or discouraged, what's-the-use? mindset, was often on full display, offered a fast cure for most nurturing any misbegotten notions of 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 along with the dirt-cheap lots with their unabashed near-zero infrastructure. One paid dearly for added features in more developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, gas, sewage, security, fire department... When you bought land cheap, expectations could be low to nonexistent. And some people, craving simple solitude, bought here expressly because lit lacked such civilized touches. To such thinking, any humming of actual community too often resulted in everyone getting in everyone else's business, thereby making simple rustic living impossible.

 

Not so for Vista’s cash-rich, starry-eyed pioneers of yore. Bewitched by the region’s allure during simpler times, enough to invest 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 in to the emerging respectable enclave. It was an embryonic rural hideaway sanctuary for decent folk, a place far from the madding crowd. As a song lyric went, they wanted to believe that 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
1965-2015
[Part 3]

 

"Welcome all!" 

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, living in the bosom of nature, they were eager to share their good fortune. They offered cheerful assistance with new arrivals, wanting to see the fledgling backwoods community grow and flourish. Each new denizen of the sparse backwoods settlement was potentially a valuable addition to the budding settlement. Since there were no real guardrails in place through the CC&Rs to guide it along, each new arrival had the potential to either help make or break the informal embryonic community the more sociable residents hoped to see grow.

 

Often, these more altruistic souls were residents of homes whose original inhabitants had since moved on, the thrill of Vista living evaporated. Relative newcomers hadn't experienced their ordeals in complying with onerous health and building codes only to have others blatantly ignore them, or the blatant vandalism by irate and malicious-minded locals during the camping-only years. They were more in the moment, live-and-let-live, sometimes inviting one to share an afternoon 'drinky-poo' on their porch. Others had done all the heavy lifting and paid steep dues; newcomers were free to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, not hung up on or appreciating the former's countless trials by fire.

 

Instant homestead

Not so others, mostly the first wave of residents who, not having given up, dug in for the duration. Strict law and order folks, their mindset was noticeably less egalitarian. They scrambled to try pulling up the drawbridge post haste. Huge snarly signs were erected everywhere. They were bound and determined to keep the riff-raff out.  They fully relied on Siskiyou county's residential-code enforcement, whose public-service staff salaries their property taxes paid for, to protect their rural outpost from getting overrun by misguided souls with the audacity to think they could invade their would-be respectable wilderness paradise on the cheap...especially any revved-up younger folks of threadbare means...and most especially the pot-smoking hippies and beer-guzzling bikers they thought they'd forever left behind in the cities.

 

They knew such lot buyers and hopeful instant settlers would be worlds away from ever embracing their law-abiding, retiring ways and prove ruinous to their tightly structured order of things. So they took on a sea of troubles with a flinty, full-court determination: damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. They demanded every property holder earn the right to live on the land just as they had, by damn. They had to meet all health and building code requirements -- no matter the cost, time or effort. If you couldn't afford it or just didn't want to go down that path, well, too bad; obviously, the place wasn't for you.

 

But the floodgates -- advertising the cheap parcels available -- were wide open as realtors advertised the lots on multi-listings nationwide. When the code enforcement system of the relatively poor rural county in time got overwhelmed, as various and sundry started moving in on the cheap despite their best efforts to deter, or have various miscreants kicked off, they lost it. They sailed clear around the bend. Such pretenders to the realm -- erecting seemingly permanent tents, pulling in derelict trailers and mobile homes, building tumbledown structures and hanging up their hats, figuring they were home -- left them boiling mad. The brazen newcomers, in turn, appeared either oblivious or indifferent to what the few scattered residents might've thought of their sudden presence. It was either, "Hey, what's the big deal?", or "Mind your own damn business."  Many clearly didn't seem concerned over the county ordinances they were willfully ignoring or were in blissful ignorance of. It seemed that being out in the middle of nowhere on such secluded land could dull one's perception to feel the need to conform to any such bureaucratic nonsense.

 

The illusion of one's remote Vista property being a stand-alone lot, existing independently of any outside control forces whatsoever -- rather than in fact one among 1,641 lots, every last one ostensibly subject to a sea of regulations -- was too just seductive not to succumb to.

 

So it went that the growling No this, No that, and No the Other Thing signs thrown up were dismissed as mostly unenforceable bluff by well-heeled, uptight people selfishly trying to bogart the place. Newcomers went their merry way, "doing their own thing", that vital watch phrase from the rebellious countercultural era being taken to heart by greater numbers with each passing ye,ar as people left behind the former times' fading, over-rigid law-and-order mindset and blind conformity. Or tried to.

 

Whenever being rudely reminded otherwise by unpleasant confrontations with dutifully compliant residents gone nuclear or the resulting summoned, all-business county code enforcers, it did little to make them want to ever comply even if they could afford to. The firstcomers -- bent into veritable pretzels in the scramble to preserve their La-la-land-ish, country club enclave from otherwise certain rack and ruin -- took such an imperious zero tolerance stance against the scofflaw newcomers invading their domain that the more free-minded land buyers, scoping their over-wound mindset, thought, Screw 'em, we'll take our chances.

 

While it was all unfortunate, it was the way things were. The modern day pioneers had conformed to all legal residency requirements and expected every future would-be resident of Mt. Shasta Vista to do the same. Or else.

 

Now, it seemed such rules didn't even exist. Overnight, their one-time safe-haven backwoods retirement community was fast turning into its own madding crowd.

 

Not all newcomers were brazen scofflaws, of course; maybe very few at first, in fact. Some of lesser means were still more or less law abiding and nurtured hopes of living out their own, simpler vision of idyllic country living, and they were simply badly informed. While they had no actual intent to buck the system, their fondest dreams were nonetheless dashed to smithereens once receiving an antagonistic 'unwelcome wagon' visit from hitherto unknown neighbors from hell, a delegation of overbearing hard-asses who'd swoop down on them out out of nowhere and read them the riot act.

 

Others, though, thicker skinned and unconcerned with ever complying or rendering unto Caesar in general, dug in and kicked back hard. One time in the early 1990s, an unsanctioned neighbor with pronounced confrontational tendencies had just been given his walking papers. He responded by one day spotting the current board president driving about and aggressively tailgated him for miles along the otherwise empty back roads, sticking to him like glue. While the man was no doubt alarmed on looking into his rear-view and realizing he'd somehow gained the ire of a crazed madman, one might conclude he was only reaping what he and earlier imperious board members had sown by such a zero tolerance stance.

 

Home in the country

In the early to mid 1970s, after the first wave or two of settlers had settled in following the few late sixties' early birds, a sprinkling of maybe thirty or so year-round, mostly compliant residences were dotting the countryside. While the code defiant had yet to gain a substantial foothold, momentum was growing...inexorably. The genie was out of the bottle. There was incredibly cheap Mt. Shasta region land available, and various and sundry were beginning to leap at the chance to make the Vista’s sprawling juniper boonies their home, too. In the bigger picture, the notion of one 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 -- joined the back-to-the-land movement ratcheting into high gear.

 

As serious interest grew in making the exodus from city living, the Vista gained the air of a sort of time-release Oklahoma land rush. In leaps and bounds, excited new arrivals discovered the pleasant place with dirt-cheap prices and settled in or tried to. With the place having no master plan and a slipping handle on code enforcement, each newcomer was winging it, flying blind on arrival to their snapped-up lots and deciding to go for it. The land experienced fitful, frenzied bursts of shelter construction, some still to code but more and more not. Industrious sounds of hammering and whining circular saws and power generators filled the air. Writer guesstimates that by the mid to late seventies, maybe sixty to eighty residences, of markedly varied degrees of ambition and compliance, sprinkled the seven square miles of remote high-desert woodlands that seemed its own special  world. 

 

Those opting to ignore code requirements, playing it by ear in the mad scramble, were intent on getting a toehold while the getting was good. For it was always worlds harder trying to tell someone they couldn't be there after they'd already built a shelter, fenced off thr property, posted No Trespassing signs, and moved in, lock, stock and barrel.

 

It was the territorial imperative writ large.

 

With so many being hypnotized by the land, eclipsing any more practical concerns, a strange wonderland  at increasing variance with mundane realities was emerging despite the most dedicated efforts of code-compliant residents gone berserk trying to arrest the trend.

 

CC&R revision?

It's unknown if some of the heavily invested first wave ever gave serious 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 knew the score in specific terms. Before doing anything more than visit, one would realize they had to first 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 ever becoming eligible to apply for a building permit -- and then conform to the exhaustive health and building code requirements. This was the accepted reality of places like nearby Lake Shastina (and, of course, most any city).  Not the Vista. Though first settled by solid law-abiding people, it was during the rebellious sixties; it was almost as if the time's spirit of Anything Goes was predestined to override their convention-minded, law-and-order mold. Even so, one wonders if such a procedure might've assured that the place would establish a solid footing and thus remain a 'respectable', law-abiding community, one that in time would gain at least grudging respect from the surrounding community and wasn't at perpetual war with itself.

 

A moot point, of course. With 98% of the property owners absentee and living all over the nation, many nursing serious buyer remorse, the heavily invested residents would've realized they'd never get 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 and worldly concerns were over once the living structures were a done deal.

 

Bogarting Shangri-la

A more cynical view might've held that the founders, while realizing constructing such full-on homes amid the sea of raw vacation parcels was bound to create certain thorny problems in the long run, just didn't care. They had theirs, for whatever remained left of their time on earth, let the chips fall where they may. They'd earned it, by damn, after a lifetime of hard work and then having complied with every last nit-picky, pricey, time-consuming legal residency requirement. And, after all, it was the developer himself who'd suggested retiring here in the first place. Blame him. Not unreasonably, they relied on enforcement of county ordinances to keep things copacetic. Their attitude, again, was, "Too bad if you can't afford to live here and build to code like we did, but the law's the law." Later, while still loaded for bear even though realizing the system was failing them miserably, there attitude became, "And if we can't get you out, we'll do our damnedest to make your lives an absolute living hell."

 

For better or worse, the emerging neither-this-nor-that place was essentially left 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 inhabitants in any given time period advanced their notion of how they thought the place should be. They tried convincing others it was the best way, or only way, to go. The situation was not too unlike excited kids building sandcastles on the seashore until the high tide rushed in and erased their ambitious efforts. Then, later, new castles were built by others, likewise unmindful of the next high tide. Or, like creating an image on an Etch-a-Sketch toy, then with a flick of the wrist even the most elaborate designs being shaken away, returning the screen to a blank slate. 

 

While requirements for homebuilding 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 condition for the place ever getting greenlit -- these were never easy to enforce by the sparsely populated county's undermanned staff tasked with such 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 in time became the accepted method for the county to tax lot improvements). Unless, that is, livid code-compliant residents burned up the phone lines, as they did, screaming bloody murder about every last noncompliance infraction and demanding a 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 else living within a quarter mile or more  -- a county too poor to hire enough manpower to effectively enforce its own codes, should people simply opt to ignore them, something of a pronounced libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit emerged. Especially among the more free-spirited, minimalist lifestyle baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of earlier waves, was pulled to the mountain. They'd discovered the plentiful, dirt-cheap parcels for sale in the sleepy buyer's market as more and more property holders finally cut their losses and shook loose of what turned out to be the worst investment they'd ever had the sorry misfortune to get involved in.

 

Parcels were a dime a dozen. Eager buyers didn't seem to stop and wonder why they were going so cheap. It maybe struck them as one of the last few bargain land deals around and they'd been lucky enough to discover the parcels before someone else snapped them up. While it might've seemed an extraordinary bargain, the pricing was, after all, only allowing affordable living, the way it was supposed to be.

 

Doing one's thing

Such a free-wheeling spirit 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 pouring in were fully intent on going their own way and being left alone. Certainly few, if any, any longer bought into the ephemeral retirement community's narrow mindset of how things should be according to their lights. 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 everyone agreeing to disagree with everyone else.

 

It was the unwillingness of so many to build to code that became -- along with disinterested absentee parcel holders -- the main deal breakers preventing the place from ever segueing into a recognized standard rural community. The ensuing rebellion from perceived-as-oppressive codes would tear to shreds what little of the place's threadbare social fabric and community sense there was, sparking the long pitched battle between the dutifully compliant and the doggedly rebellious. The former viewed the latter as illegal residents, richly deserving the bums' rush; the latter viewed the former as uptight power trippers with too much money and a serious need to chill.

 

But then, looking at things from a wider perspective, all factors had combined to make for a place so festering with irreconcilable differences both within and without, that it never had even a ghost of a chance of ever transforming from campland to residential community. A place built on such shaky footing -- lacking water, electricity and supporting CC&Rs; 'What code?' 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 with an abiding resentment it even existed, all baked into the place's very inception...such a laundry list all but guaranteed that whatever elusive hopes initially civic minded residents and property holders might've held to turn the place around were forever doomed six ways to Sunday.

 

Property owner 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 obligations of the nonprofit public-benefit corporation the Vista was -- mostly road maintenance -- it was required by the state to meet monthly. It was normally composed of six volunteer members, each serving staggered two-year terms. Since all members had to live in approved structures and be in good standing to be eligible (or be a member in good standing if living elsewhere), the board led the charge in declaring war on noncompliance to try saving the fledgling backwoods community from total disaster. 

 

Significantly, universal health and building code compliance was also critical if a legal resident decided to move on and wanted to sell at a decent price.  Once realizing the good ship Vista was sinking fast, their outrage was magnified for circumstances touching the money nerve. They knew they'd lose out getting a good return after all their work and expense in creating full-on legal residences in what was becoming a hopelessly chaotic scene.

 

Infuriated board members, in doggedly reporting every last violation, created a stony legacy of scorched-earth overreach and hardball action that was to become the realm's sorry legacy.

 

Building a fence without a permit? Report the bugger. Thirty-two days camping out? Get the interloper thrown off. In the course of such efforts, they alienated everyone who hadn't made a similar commitment to comply. Or even sometimes upset those who had bought compliant homes and soon had serious misgivings for moving into such a contentious scene, a place where it seemed normal for everyone to be gnashing their teeth and many lamenting, "What were we thinking when we moved here? For decades the place experienced what was, in effect, a mini reign of terror. Various board members and their minions often went about with a balls out ruthlessness, doing their damnedest to stamp out the scourge devastating their would-be backwoods enclave of respectable, law-abiding folks.  

 

Such intolerance of course made the place more than a tad less desirable to want to live in. It doubtless scared off even your like-minded, would-be-code-compliant owner-builders from settling after hearing incredibly intense war stories from spitting-mad residents they approached to ask how they liked living here, 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 to stem the tide of scofflaw building, it nonetheless remained  a cause celebre, if in time simmering on low burner -- "the law's the law." It was  a hardline stance that swept up everyone into the fray, or tried to; there were no innocent bystanders. Those who refused to take a side -- "Sorry, we didn't move out here to get mixed up in any local politics" -- were scorned as do-nothing enablers and part of the problem.

 

The enforcement system they depended on catastrophically failed them. It had allowed barbarians to storm the gates -- and stay. Shocked over their shattered dreams of tranquil retirement in the bosom of nature, living among kindred souls, some came to take a certain grim satisfaction exacting a pound of flesh from every transgressor discovered, threatening dire consequences if they didn't toe the (fast-fading) line. Even when they knew such threats had become mostly empty ones, they must've felt venting such open hostility would at least make some feel so unwelcome they'd start packing just to get away from such clearly bonkers neighbors.

 

Indeed, a few of your more unwitting transgressors, having no stomach for ugly confrontations, gave up and moved on, disillusioned and devastated. Some who knew they'd maybe be courting trouble would leave mumbling, "Oh, well, worth a try." But others, having thicker skins and perhaps more combative natures, dug in hard and escalated right along with the enforcers, as if daring them to try 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: if you can read this you're within range."  Others, perhaps too much time on their hands, seemed to enjoy taunting the enforcement crowd; it was a strange cat-and-mouse game that gave them something to do.

 

There was yet another reason for the code compliant manning 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, but technically they could be held liable if neglecting proper enforcement efforts; board members could be sued.

 

As if to show there could be no doubt whatsoever they weren't shirking their duties, board members reported each and every infraction their ongoing searches uncovered to county authorities.

 

Short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, the place was at the mercy of the county powers that be to keep things on track. Once things started derailing spectacularly, it was still on them to try to make things right again. As taxpayers and as association members with no legal fining powers, they demanded the stretched-thin county enforcement agencies address the out-of-control problem and work to return the realm to 100% code compliance. For what earthly good were laws if they weren't enforced?

 

Failing that increasingly impossible dream as the overwhelmed enforcement system broke down, at least it'd be on them. (Then maybe they'd get sued.)

 

Instantly radicalized

While each land buyer would sign an agreement to abide by all laws, regulations and ordinances on purchasing of their parcel, it was 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 elusive dreams of tranquil country living, remained blissfully ignorant of the fact 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 even think of doing that. People came to feel foolish and misguided for settling in what at first blush had seemed a delightful, charming, affordable place (apart from the barking signage that one tried to tune out), but for some strange reason was giving a whole new meaning to the expression, 'going off the deep end.'

 

Such polarized energies and hardball tactics radicalized one against the local powers that be in a heartbeat.

 

The more cash-strapped, instant-sanctuary sort of newcomers hoping to successfully buck the system knew only that they'd snagged an affordable piece of rural California and they were psyched to do their own thing on it and 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 advised 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, a crazy-quilt of lots tucked away out in the boonies, could 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, a pricey stand-alone 20, 40 or 80 acre parcel and then have to deal with road access and maintenance all 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 were isolated from the high-density town and city lifestyle that had made the same plethora of rules and regulations feel normal. Out in the boonies, they felt intolerably oppressive.

 

It was that same crowded, super-regulated urban reality so many wanted to get away from that led them here in the first place. 

 

Not sharing the fantasy

The fact that people wanted their own land -- a place where they could live closer to nature and a more respectable distance from others -- made it difficult with all the contentious forces afoot to ever warm up to the reality of others sharing the land with them, despite being a world's 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. It was like the bureaucratic city mindset was surreally superimposed on the untamed countryside.  As a result, thinking the place offered independent country living could sometimes seem like no more than a cruel illusion.

 

Steve Dockter, a late neighbor of the writer's (whose laconic manner of speech bore a striking resemblance to actor Sam Elliot),  once said with his usual droll wit, "People need to learn to share the fantasy."  While many could feel like they owned maybe 20 or 40 acres, or at least had one heck of a buffer zone surrounding their two to three acre parcels, they needed to allow others to enjoy the same sense by being considerate and mindful of their needs and rights, as well as their own. Otherwise the potential for ceaseless territorial squabbling and indifference resulted in a chaotic, wild-frontier climate that ruined it for everyone.

 

The Vista's list of neighborhood grievances often seemed endless.

 

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 one's backyard rather than haul them to the dump, tree poaching epidemics, juvenile dirt bikers roaring about on devices loud as chainsaws and tearing through the unfenced lots of absentee owners, epidemic roadside littering and flagrant garbage dumping, letting strong winds blow one's property detritus to the four corners with zero concern over it despoiling the landscape...  Between all these and more there was usually always something going on to raise one's hackles.

 

In sheer exasperation, residents kept complaining to the largely powerless board, mostly to no avail. And to county authorities, who in turn were often so caught up in the swamp of slow bureaucratic procedure and were reflecting an older populace's set rural ways that they themselves might also feel powerless and/or disinclined to work to try resolving such chronic problems. Among the more benumbed and burned out on elected public service, they'd be practiced in the fine art of the two-step avoidance dance in response to constituents' ceaseless wails of "Can't you do something?!"  It seemed the buck never stopped anywhere;  it kept circling endlessly: "Well, unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do"; "Sorry, it's not our problem"; "Ya see, it's complicated"; "You might give Neighborhood Watch another go"; "You could try suing"...

 

Beyond the element in local government who were wary or indifferent to the Vista's plight, among others it possibly wasn't so much supervisors and code enforcers not caring per se as it was the county's rural population embracing a relaxed, stand-alone country lifestyle that hadn't the heart to play cop on fellow residents. Some in government beyond law enforcement seemed to lack the disposition and inclination 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 seriously eroding the charm of country living.

 

Critically, they depended on the vast majority being law-abiding citizens. The rural county just didn't have a big enough public treasure to enforce its own ordinances should enough -- for whatever reason --  simply choose to ignore them.

 

If that happened they could be in deep doo-doo.

 

 

__________________________________________

 

 
 
 

 
The Vista Through Time
1965 - 2015
[Part 4]

 

Subdivisions not organic settlements

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 had to deal with, was perhaps employing social scientists to conduct a weird social lab experiment. Like they wanted to determine how many strangers could live together in the middle of nowhere for how long and deal with a given load of state-imposed mandates before it drove them all nuts. "Hey guys, I think we might have a new contender."

 

People moved to the country for peace and quiet. To enjoy fresh air and quietude, live more simply and be left the hell alone. They didn't want to deal with any blasted bureaucratic mandates. Naturally they did their best to ignore them -- even if the downside was possibly (as an unintended consequence) encouraging an infusion of scofflaw elements attracted to the place as a promising hideaway. Some might say the very word 'subdivision' handicapped such developments from ever becoming thriving, cooperative communities; it sounded so...well, divisive.

 

Historically, when a settlement was founded by one or a party, unless a boom-town, it evolved slowly; there was an organic process at work. New residents gained a sense of belonging and a measure of empowerment within the slow-growing community where each played a valued 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 the land. It was his creation, such as it was, designed and aspiring to be no more than simple recreational lands to enjoy roughing it on a few weeks a year. When it later segued into an actual would-be community, residential growth was handicapped. It lacked -- forget infrastructure -- any formal cohesive growth guidelines, self-determination, or abiding pride for being part of a 'home-grown' community, rather than a remote realtor's simple vision of developing cooperative vacation lands he hoped would fly.

 

Vista's iffy situation was made iffier still when various one-time residents over time leased out their residences once the blush of Vista living was decidedly off the rose. 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 be involved and help the place along more than joining the volunteer fire department or do fundraisers for it, or simply spout one's two cents' worth at monthly meetings (if even allowed to as a non-owner).

 

And the problems, again, were greatly exacerbated by the legion of disinterested absentee parcel owner that long constituted over 90% of the association's membership; they dwarfed the number of actual residents yet held equal voting power on any formal proposal. To many of the purely speculative, it was nothing but a gone-sour investment they'd pull the plug on and sell the second they got a decent offer. In the meantime, they'd scream and holler over every cent of annual due increase right along with the many residents, who themselves also became mostly indifferent to the outlandish notion of ever lifting a finger (beyond the middle one) to help along the wilderness condo that had obviously derailed to beat the band.

 

The professional management in time hired by the volunteer board was relied on to try to take care of mundane everyday matters, especially legal and accounting concerns. But by then things had been going wrong so long, many felt there was really nothing meaningful anyone could do other than nurse along the wobbly operation as it was and hope for the best. Cynics included long-established residents who had their own social scene wired, thank you, and were all too aware how steeply the cards were stacked against the place ever becoming a viable community. They'd reject as naive, if well-meant, the pipe dreams of those who wanted to try to pull the poor place together.

Cynicism ran so deep, 'hope' was just another four-letter word.

 

In time, more and more owners realized that the Vista was taking the meaning of 'dysfunctional' to new levels.

 

A prime example of how endemic the lack of civic-minded spirit was: 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 could bother to deal with it. The 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 how  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 it couldn't even deal with such a simple matter.

 

A more far-reaching example: In 1981, association members defeated 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 starting to grow as a would-be community. Even though it would’ve only involved a modest extra assessment for two years to fund, its cost being spread out among many owners, and undoubtedly would’ve benefited myriad parcel holders over time by fostering an integrating sense of community and therefore likely increasing lot values, the sea of owner majority had blinders on. They chorused their favorite refrain: "Not One Cent More!"

 

Home free?

As mentioned, many embraced the persistent fond illusion that once they'd bought the land, except for annual property taxes -- some were no doubt not even aware of that -- they were home free. So they took strong exception to having to feed the parking meter every year, as it were, for road maintenance on roads most never even drove on, lest their property get towed away by the Mt. Shasta Vista Property Owners Association through legal repossession for resale to the next, possibly equally 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 due season. But such sentiments faced the constant headwinds of overwhelming hopelessness born of the long-entrenched indifference of the vast majority. Some had no doubt entertained wistful notions of moving here someday once or it somehow, finally, miraculously got itself together and redeemed itself -- perhaps even as-is and hoping for the best. And a few others still enjoyed periodic camping retreats on more secluded retreat lots located far from busiest arteries and established homes clustered along the few power lines and relatively close to the blacktop.

 

But it seemed the immense majority -- jaded residents and disillusioned absentee owners alike -- grew deeply apathetic to the notion of the place ever being anything but permanently out of kilter. That is, if it meant one more penny being pried from wallet or purse. Clearly, there was no hope for the basket case that was Mt. Shasta Vista.

 

Some thought a portion of their annual assessment could surely go towards funding whatever civic improvements the few community-minded thought would 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 roads. Plus, the board was repossessing parcels that couldn't be resold readily and their annual county property taxes had to be covered by the association, further eating into available funds. Then there were vandalized or stolen road signs needing frequent replacement (back when that was still done in a 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 the 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 required for running the development according to Hoyle once the state legislature in 1985 enacted a flurry of new regulations for subdivisions that became known as the Davis Stirling Act.

 

But it would add insult to injury when, over time, one of our salaried managers (we've had two) -- whom residents might naturally assume would work for the good of the place, helping preserve the Vista's livability and keeping residents' best interests at heart along with the absentee owners' -- actually brokered lot sales, serving as realty agent on the side to parties obviously intent on turning aforesaid tranquil lifestyle upside down and inside out

 

And while some, maybe even most, volunteer board presidents tried to keep the well-being of the residency in mind, again, balanced against the valid concerns of absentee parcel holders, one (who shall remain nameless), was part of a realty effort aggressively working to move parcels for commission fees to those with expedient intentions. She held that the right of each property owner to do with their lot whatever they wanted trumped any consideration for the well-being of the community (such as it was). With such a mindset, resident owners could be left feeling like they were more than expendable pawns on the realtors' chessboards.

 

Though the development was technically a nonprofit public benefit corporation, there was such strictly for-profit, make-money-anyway-you-can-off-the-lame-ass-dead-in-the-water-parcels hustling going on by self-interested parties, it beggared description. 

 

No there there

Many residents, having low or no 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 them fine. Various parties used the place as a temporary perch, ready to move out when and if something better came along. Again, to the thinking of many, trying to foster any real community involvement seemed to hold 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 more determined, clear-headed board members was soon swallowed by the usual prevailing civic indifference.

 

Many people the wayward realm attracted seemed far from your conventional sort (if there actually was such a thing). 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 conformed to code requirements, or bought places that had, ostensibly had the peace of mind with which to enjoy them, being dutifully law abiding citizens. 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 ever be effectively enforced.

 

Handy place to perch

The Vista, an arrested recreational subdivision that had spectacularly failed to ever segue into any stripe of 'normal' community, long remained an embarrassment of mostly empty lots. But, whether because or despite this, it struck all kinds of refugees from urban living as a dandy 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 more than likely got away with not conforming to code or suffered singed feathers at worst. Both paid the mandatory annual dues (usually) and as an idle pastime loved to demonize the volunteer board as the source of all ills. With such shortsightedness which living in the place seemed to cultivate, it was the fly in the ointment preventing any more carefree country living.

 

The more 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 corrupt board members dipping into the treasury were rife.

 

Though such gnarly energies weren't always evident, it usually felt that way. But 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 prevailed over a land that seemed blessed with a rich tranquility. Grateful denizens relished their solitude amid  sunshiny, largely unspoiled nature, polarized energies  being checkmated and a tenuous live-and-let-live attitude seemed to prevail.  

 

Alas, such a feeling never lasted long.

 

Perennial joker in the deck;

Intolerable years of the mid '70s through the mid '90s

While there was something that made everyone feel like a king or queen of their own regal, rustic, wild realm, their own little backwoods hideaway bought for a song, one had to keep tuning out the perennial joker in the deck: the never-ending battle over code compliance. It could make said royalty often feel more like rebellious serfs living under the yoke of would-be oppressive overlords who'd met county legal residency requirements and were duly vested in maintaining rigid law and order -- sometimes succeeding, other times coming off like Barney Fife.

 

Alas, this joker, like a rude Jack-in-the-box, kept popping up to put a crimp the lives of non-complying dwellers during the intolerable years that roughly spanned between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s. While domains tucked away furthest along the endless back roads often had so few inhabitants they might've imagined their digs more 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 would show up to put a decided damper in one's day.

 

Some (certainly not all) board members and their cohorts -- fondest hopes for the place flirting with rack and ruin, and, consequently, minds unhinged and drunk on the seeming powers being a board member bestowed -- ran amok like so many little T-Rexes. With barred teeth and razor claws, they tried wielding a ruthless authority over the domain, intent on terrorizing into conformity any hapless inhabitant with the gall to try living amid their enclave without first earning the right.

Fast forward and the latest board members, though still grumbling over the rampant non-compliance going on, seemed to become more or less resigned to having to suffer a seemingly unsolvable situation. Board meeting members and attendees, many mindful of the brief Shangri-la of yore, could sink into a why-bother, depressed mindset during operations. But, oddly enough, even with its once iron authority now rusting away, compliant residents often still felt one 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 volunteered to become an unpaid custodian for the subdivision to deal with the epidemic of road litter despoiling roadsides. Though they apparently thought it a good idea, voting me into the new position, it was a strange experience, like they were sleepwalking. They didn't  bother to address any details the post would require, like supplying trash bags or reimbursing for them, or gas and dump fees. Nothing. So I 'quit' my post before I started, knowing I needn't say anything to anyone. Their hearts weren't in it. Burned out volunteering to be on the board and used to mostly receiving only grief for their efforts and getting depressed over the sorry state of affairs, they just wanted to cover routine matters like road maintenance while coasting on automatic pilot. (I'd continue gathering road litter on my own, as did a few others likewise concerned.)

 

The way board members too often seemed to be just going through the motions, residents sometimes 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, it felt like we were a crew on some foundering ship with barely the will left to keep bailing enough water to prevent going totally under.

 

What rules?

Jumping back again to the earlier intolerant years... Despite a seemingly gone-bonkers board throwing its weight around, on constant red alert, remote circumstances 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, in time getting less and less often enforcement support from the county -- could stop them, despite all the ruckus they raised.

 

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, real life conditions of legally requiring an elected board of directors to take care of business just didn't register as a valid need. It was too invasive, too arbitrary, too self-defeating to the very reason people moved here in the first place.

 

At the risk of overstating the point, the illusion of anything goes manifested in profound measure due to the overwhelming majority of raw-parcel owners living far away and rarely, if ever, visiting their lots. To actual dwellers, they might've 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 park commons. Dwellers were sovereign over their own inviolate mini fiefdom of two to three acres plus the oftentimes luxuriant buffer zone of dozens of empty parcels; it could make one feel land rich.

 

Some residents -- beyond the board members in contact with absentee owners -- vaguely sensed their displeasure over how the place was doing. It was one that allowed firewood-selling tree poachers to raid absentees' unprotected lots at will, sometimes parcels harboring actual squatters, and let off-roaders tear up their parcels without consequence. Though perhaps having no one to blame but themselves for being foolish enough to buy into such an obvious boondoggle, it was easier to blame the residency and a powerless board that appeared it didn't care diddlysquat about such outrageous goings on.

 

Whether or not one sensed this yet one more pernicious force thrown into the mix, on a certain level such absentees' combined ire over the state of affairs definitely added to the overload of contentious forces already working their mischief in the place. Though on the subtle, it still gnawed at a resident's peace of mind along with the in-your-face, code compliant dwellers waging war on the non-compliant and the 'outlaw' dwellers responding in kind.  This vast absentee ownership, which never felt motivated to try to help the place out of its dire straits by voting for things like a community center, was surely a serious contender for being the straw that would ultimately break the camel's back.

 

Early pot grows and vigilante episodes

inside the intractable tract

In the early 2000s, one of the few residents then furtively growing illicit cannabis for the recreational black market, before pot laws were further decriminalized, one day found himself with new neighbors on Starling Road. They appeared keen on doing the exact same thing he was. Wanting to avoid increasing the likelihood of bringing any 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, had legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the first in the nation to do so. In time, before it 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  legally grow up to 99 plants, thereby ostensibly supplying some 16 'patients', and technically still being in compliance with state law, before triggering potential federal interest or state penalties.

 

After 2016, this 99-plant figure would reportedly become the tacitly agreed-on limit, barring any filed complaints, by a seemingly overwhelmed county sheriff's department, regardless of whether having scrip paperwork for 'patients' or not. The six-plant limit the state would specify for all except fully licensed commercial grows would, of course, be gleefully ignored by the flood of later unsanctioned commercial growers -- along with, eventually, the 99 plant limit. The civil misdemeanor fine would be the same whether growing 30 or three thousand plants -- $500. If busted and one's crop chopped, growers would often get back in the saddle the next day, planting a new sea of green.

 

The Siskiyou county government, for what little it seemed to matter, would decide not to allow ANY commercial grows in the unincorporated county; that is, beyond incorporated city limits. A town's voters would have the  option to either approve legal, tightly regulated commercial grows and sale dispensaries or forbid them. While the towns of Weed (naturally) and Mt. Shasta voted for it, commercial grows anywhere else were strictly verboten (though you'd hardly know it for lack of enforcement). Many would seem not to realize that the state empowered each county to either allow or forbid state and county regulated commercial cannabis operations in its unincorporated areas.

 

The Vista's few early legal grows obviously would set the stage for later developments, proving yet again how the remote place remained an irresistible draw for 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 hopeless, actually deleting its residency-code enforcer post county-wide for many critical years; and radically changing times in general -- between all these, respect for the rule of law got on pretty shaky ground in the Vista.

 

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 live trees, including some of the few tall pines that had long graced the region, leaving unsightly stumps and slash piles on once relatively pristine parcels. (A forestry department rep once showed writer a regional map with a rash of probably over a thousand 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 outright closing off the major through road running by his place by building a sign-posted gate across it -- despite it being ages too late to legally remedy the error. An equally bold neighbor, who regularly used the road, didn't think twice when encountering the barrier: he just backed up his bad-boy truck, gunned the engine and smashed the gate open, end of problem.

 

Yet another neighbor on McClarty Road, furious over certain parties routinely roaring by his place, 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 shaken and furious to confront him, he shot at them, missing, and was later arrested. On another occasion a resident on Cardinal Road saw red once learning his outlaw neighbor had tried hitting on his young teen daughter. Along with a wrecking crew he'd rounded up, he descended on the culprit's land late at night when it was known he was away on vacation in county lockup; they vandalized and looted the place to a fare-thee-well. And when a Black man briefly occupied a vacant stone cottage (again,on McLarty) and was discovered by the absentee owner late at night, the latter held a shotgun on him for 40 minutes until the sheriff deputy arrived.

 

Obviously, the place's auspicious start during simpler times, its relatively homogeneous, convention-minded, law-abiding dwellers sharing an upbeat bonhomie, was ancient history.

 

Blame it on the mountain

One could maybe in part blame the energy of the massive mountain for residents not working any better together. As mentioned, its natural force field, or whatever one sensed it emanated, was thought to stimulate one's upper body chakras. While initially revving up one's imagination, in time it could in time also tend to pull one meditatively inward. Bolstered by the development founder, who as a fellow camper in the early days also relished the freedom to do whatever one wanted on the land (within the limits of the prevailing times' law-abiding ways, of course), the mountain's influence could work to make one feel their parcel was in fact their own veritable Fortress of Solitude.

Long after the honeymoon camping years faded to oblivion and an increasingly casual (that is, not code-sanctioned), quasi homesteading took off in earnest, people in the 1990s for a while actually competed and campaigned to get voted onto the board. Some no doubt hoped to try mellowing the place -- willing to turn a blind eye to unenforceable county ordinances, perhaps, so long as residents were otherwise peaceable, hoping to make the best of a bad situation. But others kept grinding the code enforcement ax, bound and determined to bolster the by-then increasingly ineffectual hardline campaign against unsanctioned dwellings, their dwellers, and pretty much anyone who even looked at them cross-eyed.

 

That relatively community-active period passed soon enough. Fast-forward a decade and the place had become so overwhelmed with non-compliant residents that it reverted to an atmosphere of pronounced civic indifference. The  scofflaw air,  perhaps in part reflecting the times' high national crime rate, was punctuated by helpless wails from the long suffering, 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 on the water-parched land periodically had to scramble to keep snow melt waters and mud out from next door's seasonally running, sometimes rampaging, Whitney Creek. It periodically flooded parts of the adjacent section 28 lowlands. After many years of flooding, washing away vulnerable roads and eroding parcels, the Association in the eighties sued the Forest Service for having allowed the course of the creek -- actually more a snow melt wash -- to be diverted towards the then-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. Then emerging Lake Shastina didn't want it either.

 

The development won the suit, and the quarter-million dollar settlement went to funding the massive earthen berms that to this day are still kept up along Buck Horn Road and what's left of 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 had been mostly kept diverted out of harm's way.*

______________

* But not always. In August 2022, part of the Buck Horn 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 or absentee owner in good standing. If not rallying, the place conceivably could've gone into dread state receivership as a failed subdivision and faced monumentally unpleasant and costly consequences. As I was one of only a few who even sporadically attended monthly meetings, one evening in 2012 I got roped into serving on it as secretary by then-president Pamela Simpson almost before I knew what was happening.

 

While it turned out the development actually defaulting was never a serious threat, it seemed to have at least flirted with such an ignominious fate from time to time. It could feel like no one gave three hoots in a holler what happened to the sorry ass, 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 going some minimum level of functionality (mostly overseeing road maintenance). For all their troubles, such volunteers were, as said, vilified as power-crazed busybodies interfering with residents' would-be tranquil living.

 

With so many members -- resident and absentee alike -- routinely damning the board or at least being supremely indifferent to it, all but the more determined and thick-skinned members serving on it burned out; they got overwhelmed, jaded and/or embittered in record time. Those who hung in could appear charred remnants of their former selves, sleepwalking through the monthly meetings, like a dog with a bone, determined not to let go of the reigns for fear no one could or would replace them and do a credible job. Indeed, from time to time the board actually did attract volunteers who had shameless private agendas up their sleeves, wanting to try using the place to selfish advantage, or who idly sought the dubious prestige being a member might bestow without having to do much actual work.  

 

As the writer was to learn, the board's pressure-cooker meetings could be seriously detrimental to one's peace of mind. One had to be in full psychic armor, ready for battle, if, say, some outraged resident or visiting owner attended to vent his or her spleen. Or, more often, endure soul-crushing boredom.  And one could be made to feel like cannon fodder if told by the manager to sign stacks of legal foreclosure papers on property owners who'd either given up on the place, 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, fire station backroom if hoping to accomplish anything to be conceivably proud of. Spirits were often so subdued we could appear to be in some sort of clinical group depression. It was as if everyone felt the thankless grand futility of it all but plugged away anyhow out of some sorely misguided 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 help turn the place around. The situation just seemed so ridiculously depressing, so needlessly downbeat, so all-is-futility-why-even-bother? that surely it wouldn't take much to break it free of such a dispirited mindset. You'd think. But of course I struck out like everyone else. While some of the newsletter features and editorial write-ups I penned seemed appreciated, it was too little too late to make any difference in the long run. The boat had not only left the dock by then but sailed half way around the world. The die was cast. The dismal course was set. Barring some miracle, it was pathetically wishful thinking to imagine board members could ever pull the place out of the hopeless quagmire it was floundering in.

 

We were dinosaurs stuck in a tar pit, lamenting our bleak fate.

 

Though various mindful visitors over time sensed the land's healing qualities -- some overnighters reported having the best dreams of their lives here -- cynics, not without 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; a hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks; maybe a few respectable, hardworking residents hoping to play out their elusive dream of idyllic country living and obviously having built 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 pure 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 birth day of TV's Rosanne Barr, along with football's Collin Kaepernick and actor Charles Bronson. Some might say the resulting early Scorpio, brooding, super-wound energies imprinted on the development at its moment of birth practically guaranteed the place would always be 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.)

 

Related, there's cardology, or the study of planetary influences forming a unique DNA signature for each day of the year, symbolized by a playing card (some days sharing the same card, but having unique 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.  It was a dreamland, not always able to deal with waking reality.

 

Perfect storm

Somewhere along the way the once openly shared, carefree vacation land had reached a critical tipping point...passed the point of no return...reached a major crossroads...had a grand moment of truth...hit zero hour...pick your phrase. Scofflaw residents were now determined to do their own thing while hundreds of landholders filled with buyer remorse had little to no interest in the place except to cash out as fast as possible without taking a loss. The scene had gotten so sketchy, would-be residents were no longer interested in building to code. (Why bother when the county dropped its residential code enforcer position and a code-built place couldn't fetch enough return if deciding to sell in the usual realty market for being located in such a squirrelly place?) The many daunting factors holding the place back piled up, converging to in due course to create the perfect storm.

 

The situation was already letting any so inclined have a field day pursuing whatever dubious land uses they might dream up -- junkyards, dog kennels, meth labs -- for being off remote, private dirt roads tucked far away from all but maybe the prying eyes of a few nosy neighbors. No matter such dubious uses upset the peace and quiet the code compliant had dropped anchor here for and invested decades of hard work establishing homesteads, or that of others who'd bought from those who had and paid accordingly.

 

The wayward realm was singing the old Cole Porter tune, "Anything Goes" loud and clear.

Without any more pro-active harmonizing force, one with at the least some semblance of community concern and respect for the rule of law, an anarchistic spirit was gaining an outsize influence. It seemed the majority of less invested residency, used to the place being dysfunctional -- a quirky, low-key hideaway with a powerless board and unresponsive county authorities -- couldn't be bothered to read the writing on the wall: 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 were crystal clear: One, the lotus land was a rudderless ship, vulnerable to drifting into perilous straits; and two, residents either didn't care or felt powerless to do anything to try safeguarding the still fitfully tranquil rural lifestyle that was by then mostly taken for granted. 

 

________________________________________

 
The Vista thru Time
1965-2015
 [part 5]

 
 

 

  

Knowing where the Vista was coming from could go a long way in understanding where it went. Had the place's metaphorical foundation (as it were) gone full circle? First tents and trailers set on sand; then conventional homes, built on rock; then trailers again set on sand. 

Whatever happened, lack of water played a major role. Klamath River County Estates (KRCE) landowner Will Jensen, in long ago reporting in a blog covering his exhaustive search to find the ideal affordable rural home property with 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 a 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 high desert land that was almost always baking hot and bone dry in summer, as well as for being volcanic terrain that often made hitting water through lava strata touch and go, and, even if successful, sometimes resulting in water undrinkable without expensive treatment.

 

One time, an early owner couple drilling for water hit a lava tube. They felt a constant, cool stream of air coming out of the hole and decided to harness the tube's frigid air with a fan to naturally air-condition their eventual home, having sunk their well elsewhere.  (More on water situation in 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 levels and finances. Scattered over the vastness of nearly seven square miles, it was still a mere sprinkling; the development was worlds away from ever even beginning to get built out. Most dwellers still felt like land barons. Especially if on parcels far from the relative concentration of structures amid the few power lines that were often found closest to the county blacktop.

 

It seemed many owners were addicted to pavement; they couldn't warm to the place's humble country roads. Adverse to their nice clean vehicle getting all dusty and ruining a latest car wash, they were adverse to the notion of having to regularly drive up to five miles, over often narrow and winding cinder roads, to reach their properties. A half mile of unpaved back road was more than enough to have to suffer. It seemed the desire for seclusion was weighed against the desire for easy in and out and a compromise struck. With so many less desirable parcels scattered deep in the hinterlands, there was a grand buffer of over a thousand empty parcels in the entire place that lent more remote regions a profoundly tranquil, park-like ambiance for any willing to go the distance and embrace country living.

 

But it often seemed that no matter how much pristine land one might enjoy, a foreboding undercurrent lurked just below the surface. One that could jam one’s peace of mind and ability to ever fully enjoy the oft-heralded joys of country living. Between the regional community never accepting the place and the hellbent resolve of code-compliant residents to wage war on the code ignorers and their often primitive lifestyles, dragging down the desirability and market values of the place, one was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if one was compliant, an almost palpable tension couldd 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 you found yourself over-identifying with artist Munch’s screamer.

 

It would drive more than a few to drink.

 

Missing word sank efforts

About 2012, a long overdue effort was launched by a handful of more civic-minded residents. A committee  was formed to try revising the outdated CC&Rs. Not overhaul them outright, but at least tinker around the edges some, hoping to make them a bit more relevant. After much slow sledding, a glitch in a progress report sent out to every owner 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 somehow left out, making the changes sound like a done deal.

 

This in turn prompted a barely peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd to storm the next monthly board meeting. Residents who normally avoided such meetings like the plague came 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, as said, resented, and often contested by those not getting their own roads better maintained (if at all). Various absentee owners added to the chorus, claiming they could barely reach their parcels if located in the more remote areas because the roads hadn’t been touched in years. 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 stuck in turn and a monster tow truck having to be called in to rescue the rescuer.

 

It didn’t help matters any that part-time neighbor, Whitney Creek, rambunctious when summer temperatures soared to 90 or 100 degree F., melting the mountain's sometimes heavy snow pack, cut a new course or ate through its earthen berms. It once actually put most of Section 28 under up to nine inches of water, forcing an evacuation and making regional TV news, long-time resident and native Arkansan Bill Waterson hyucking for the camera. The worst of the many floods over time until a massive earthen berm was built, it washed away some roads so thoroughly that the board finally abandoned them and 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'd become an obvious need for them -- finally installed Dead End signs at the start of the roads branching off Starling Road.

 

Train wreck of a place

Vistan parcel holders were by and large 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 rallying community awareness and cooperation in such a bare-bones place with an ornery social climate. The situation was, as writer keeps saying, seriously compounded by a sea of absentee owners who'd bought parcels solely as investments and came to feel their holdings an albatross about their collective necks for the ouchy annual assessment fee and chronic sleeper-market conditions for what was dismissed as a ridiculously failed development. Such widespread disenchantment was guaranteed to arrest any errant inclination to try pulling the development out of its discombobulated straits.

 

At some point, having no legal foundation blueprints with which to build a standard, recognized community, the place -- caught between a rock and a hard place and overwhelmed by seemingly endless adverse circumstances  -- had shorted out. It became the broken development first-time visitors routinely dropped jaws over. Such a "left for dead", train wreck of a place, set amid otherwise subtly charming backwoods, struck many as too surreal. Like a long abandoned film set for some low budget Western, maybe, left gathering mothballs in outdoor storage. Or,  a place that had grown too big for its britches trying to rise above its lowly station, left paying the steep price for its rank impertinence.

 

Those who had early on their dozen or two built code-approved homes -- almost everyone who first moved onto the land -- had been pragmatic in assessing the situation. They realized it would take everyone following health and building regulations if the development were to remain an emerging standard rural community.

 

But people swooped on the cheap, displaying innocent "Hey, I'm just building a little vacation cabin here, no biggie" sentiments; more defiant, "Whadarya goin' to do about it, hee-hee?" attitudes; or "My land; bugger off." Earliest settlers had known their one-time law-abiding retirement hideaway was in mortal danger, its very survival depending on county authorities stepping in with no-nonsense code enforcement to keep things right.

 

Failing that, the place was toast.  

 

Still a nice place to live, kinda sorta

Over time, the realm -- becoming a broad, haphazard, surreal mix of approved living structures and unsanctioned makeshift dwellings and derelict trailers and mobiles -- 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, the Vista was de facto recycled, its residency making like hermit crabs and moving in among the abandoned rec land lot shells and houses sold by the disillusioned and disgusted. Many and sundry came to consider the development a nice place to live despite its obvious shortcomings and checkered pedigree. Sure, it was a failed subdivision, but hey, one could learn to live with that. It was our failed subdivision.
 

Living in the Vista could feel like wearing a comfy if disreputable-looking old pair of sneakers that had yet to develop worrisome holes in the soles.

 

No such kind regard was felt by most of the some eighty percent of property holders, as of about 2010 -- over 1,200 -- constituting the absentee membership scattered throughout the nation. They were clearly not enjoying the land. Some, possibly hoping for a miraculous turnaround, had, as mentioned, clung to title deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and doubling down, shelling out each year for upkeep on roads they never drove on lest their lots be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time.  The sentiment was basically, "When I invested in the place, I didn't realize I'd have to keep investing in it."

 

Others dumped their lots in dismay, taking a loss and feeling keen regret and disappointment. This churn rate of lot ownership created extra billing time for the salaried manager processing the reams 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, desperate, and flip minded. They often didn't have to say a word; the remote dirt-cheap lots with their fabulous mountain views and deep seclusion sold themselves.

 

Meanwhile, the absentee parcel holders -- like hapless characters in Waiting for Godot -- stood by patiently, waiting for values to rise so they could finally lose the clunkers at a decent profit, or at least break even. Or the place improve itself to the point they might actually enjoy visiting -- maybe even build an approved shelter of some sort as a part-time retreat.

 

Beginnings re-visited: 

ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views

Earliest campers in the newly formed, shared wonderland had 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 magical, dazzling the eye with its bright, near-phosphorescent green. After rains, the pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was nature's perfume.

 

Abundant wildlife included deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, plentiful birds, ever-friendly and curious chipmunks, less friendly polecats, porcupines and, yes, rattlesnakes (now all but gone); a rare mountain lion and other wildcats; tiny, endangered kangaroo rats with impossibly long tails, hopping about at dusk...

 

The place's first vacationers would return home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to their newly discovered shared wilderness hideaway and all the improvements they’d work on during rendezvous with their friends new and old. Everyone was eager to grow the new private retreat for their continued enjoyment and benefit of any visiting land holder.

 

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, 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 in later times raced over to snap the spectacular, almost surreal, lenticular clouds flying off it, or an impossibly giant one hovering over it like some mothership from Venus.

 

Judging by the writings in the association's twice-annual Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared in the euphoric waves of feelgoodness that swept the land during those rarefied purple-haze days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (along with the 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 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 the then-frequent UFOs seen darting about the mountain and making national headlines.

 

The embryonic community had just possibly gained some rarefied cosmic super-charge from curious advanced extra-terrestrial beings checking out the singing earthlings enjoying the mountain's sleepy side.

 

Dreamland

To any susceptible to the subtle charms of such high desert woodlands -- magnified for being under the mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise. One new parcel holders gladly worked  on to make nicer. The light-duty cinder roads were kept immaculately groomed by the membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers were planted at highway entrances, the welcoming archway was lifted up into place. Then, as related, group civic improvement efforts seemed to have peaked with establishing the de facto community well and extending power lines to parcels whose owners committed to drilling wells as the first step to establishing a residency. (Both subjects covered in depth in 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 might later happen to it. If accepting this as maybe 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, 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 (including  gold rush 49er Robert Martin, whose descendant sold the land to Vista developer Collins) -- it might be said that the first major indelible imprint on the land was made by none other than the modern-day-pioneering Vistans during the mid to late 1960s.

 

If so, they'd bestowed on the land an euphoric, industrious, conservative, somewhat topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature the land still resonates with, even if soon getting deeply buried below the surface. (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 run around naked.)

 

Apart from such possible influences, whenever a mindful visitor unwound and tuned into the land they could sense a pronounced, soft, almost-otherworldly, dreamland quality. In spots beyond earshot of highway wash, if no jets droning overhead or freight train rumbling in the distance, the land held such a deep quietude one might've felt they were hearing the earth breathing. Repeat visitors and residents alike, once adjusting to this at first almost 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 the same etheric quality.)

 

But this dreamy atmosphere came with a downside. Tenuous new residents, wowed by the woodland parcels bought for a song, could get so caught up spinning fantasies that they never integrated being here with doing what was needed to get things legally squared away with the powers that be and thus allow their brainstorms to actually manifest. Instead, they often remained just so many pipe dreams that the region's rarefied energies could so readily foster.

 

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 sundry mundane realities created and fitfully enforced by the county and state governments, rules legally obligating any would-be resident to establish infrastructure like a well and power before building anything, and then building only according to an accepted standard of living...until, out of the blue, a reality check shocked them awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.

 

It was a phenomenal pattern. The serene, enchanting land, for sale cheap, kept grabbing newbies, getting them wildly psyched over the parcels' possibilities. Then -- like many a 'Star Trek' TV episode where the intrepid landing team finds a planet that at first appears a strange, wondrous paradise -- they inevitably discover its fatal, deal-breaking flaw.

 

A fine place by George:

further speculations on why things went so far south

L.A. developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than the earlycomers he sold to, actually joined the vacationers during the first, visiting-only years.  He'd become the glue that held the place together, being midwife, cheerleader, first board president, 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 easily growing into anything more, thereby causing endless headache and heartbreak and bitter disappointment for countless in the latter-day would-be community -- at least he wasn't your typical, disinterested land developer who just took the money and ran.

 

He was central in the place's beginnings on so many levels, other property owners undoubtedly got used to it being in his capable hands. In a way, they became something akin to passive land tenants, relying on the ambitious overlord for whatever needed to be done:  "Let George do it."  He'd created a grand turn-key wilderness condo and obviously knew what he was doing. In essence, he became the place's benevolent master, doing all the heavy lifting and sparing everyone else the bother. He was acknowledged as the main man by his willing and grateful subjects. So long as he stayed in the picture, few felt much motivated or empowered to take on major efforts themselves to further organize and grow the place according to their own lights.

 

When at some point he bowed out for reasons uncertain, new owner residents, their 'father' having abandoned them, were forced to scramble post haste.  Left to their own devices, they were faced with a steep learning curve, assuming responsibilities and deal with ongoing realities, some of which they probably never even knew existed, suddenly staring them in the face. One might conclude that it was at this point the association's good ship Vista began to founder. They'd suddenly been forsaken by their captain and were left struggling to keep their bearings and steer a course under their own steam while bailing like crazy to stay afloat. 

 

Over time the development now and then appeared to have maybe gotten back on track (as much as any track existed) under the guidance of the more capable, on-the-ball, altruistic-minded board members. They'd scramble to get things tenuously up to speed once having tackled remedial catch-up chores. Then it'd derail all over again under the endless shuffle of new, sometimes less motivated and/or knowledgeable resident volunteers.  There was always a lot of slow on-the-job training involved; by the time new volunteers got a tenuous handle on things they were often already burned out, and the learning process began once again with other newbies from an ever-shrinking pool of willing property owners in good standing.

 

One might've wondered if perhaps originally Collins did have some 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 a power and light fund once seeing how next door Lake Shastina was going full-tilt residential, as were other Mt. Shasta area rural developments taking off around 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 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 spell no less than others with healthy imaginations.

 

Possibly he'd begun to hope the place could actually segue into 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 and guide such an evolution). Then he lost heart when inevitable squabbles erupted once people began digging in and dropping anchor, getting  territorial and falling out over ambitions to electrify the place and somehow meet critical water needs. (Covered in next part.)

 

It's said that it's easy to come and go but hard to stay.  Various owners wanting to move onto the land realized they had to push ahead on their own steam, each supplying their own water, power and septic,at great personal expense, had likely sided with him, while those who for various reasons would vote against extending power to every parcel maybe started telling him where to get off. Maybe by then he'd become little more than a tiresome cheerleader. Feeling hurt after all he'd done to birth and nurture the place along and now seeing growing divisions in the ranks, he might've at last said the heck with the place 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 brewing between code compliant dwellers and outlaw builders. If so, he might've come to the sad realization the county was sorely equipped to keep a handle on construction compliance despite the most dedicated efforts of code-legal residents to fully work with authorities. Possibly he foresaw this thorny, deal-breaking dilemma  -- maybe even taking heat for on some level having allowed such a thing to happen in the first place -- and so beat a hasty retreat. And his and others' vision for the place began an unfortunate, irreversible decline.

 

In any event, something happened 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 -- changed the tenor of the ephemeral Shangri-la from happy dream to an emerging disaster.  

 

Lookin' for a sign amid 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 had initially wooed with its full-on infrastructure, recreational lake 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 an accustomed route. One moonless 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 my trusty road map. But the painted lettering had faded to illegibility, done in by the elements; 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 as well as the third generation's tall, elaborate, rust-proof, reflective green metal signs. 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 want to give up and switch gears to try finding their way out of the maze.

 

Place haunted by sheer number

of phantom parcel owners

As said, many lot holders never set foot on their properties. They'd snapped them up in pure speculation -- plus maybe the excitement of gaining bragging rights for 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 tha,t at the very leas, they'd have something of interesting substance 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, experienced a rotating ownership of some 5,000 individuals, spread throughout the nation. Then, if you include two more family members per parcel getting involved, this number increased to 15,000 people that each held some level of interest in the place and a personal stake in its development, or lack thereof.  

 

That's a lot of absentee ownership. 15,000 people. One guaranteed to keep the place a little  sketchy around the edges. It seemed it was always more about being an aggregate of commercial commodities -- simple stand-alone primitive camping lots that had soon became all but obsolete -- than a place with a tiny minority of owner residents with a frustrated determination to transform it into an actual functional community. (The old chestnut, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" comes to mind.)

 

Once the original retiree clique faded away and a wildly diverse population came to dominate, civic interest seemed to all but disappear. Any latter-day newcomers who 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 -- could shatter one's dreams and create a sense of utter and complete futility over the notion of ever trying to fix anything. The place was like a disastrous big budget movie misfire where everything goes wrong after a promising start, the creative vision never realized. 

 

Initially-involved newcomers either gave up in shocked disillusionment or hastily dialed back any involvement. The few undeterred, more thick-skinned and unwavering, could appear like so many Don Quixotes, valiantly tilting at windmills.

 

By the Vista’s fiftieth anniversary in November 2015 -- a milestone noted by few, if any besides the writer, much less celebrated -- absentee parcel owners still outnumbered residents seven to one. Few residents wanted to get involved in such a crazy-quilt of far-flung owners, many to most indifferent to the realities and needs of the few calling the place home, and many of them just passing through slowly at that.  

 

Setting the standard

That first wave of firstcomers, maybe seven or so couples, were, as related, recent retirees flush with cash from selling city homes and psyched at the prospect of becoming modern day pioneers by establishing their own 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'd nurtured hopes of the place blossoming into a respectable relaxed backwoods community as other retirees joined them. One in which they as founding members would've established a comfortable living standard that others, similarly financially secure, would emulate.  

 

But its success as a growing bona fide, full-fledged 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 were rigorously enforced in Siskiyou County then. The first wave of owner builders, staunch, law abiding citizens that they were, never thought twice about following them. They dutifully jumped through every last hoop, albeit some no doubt 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, by golly, end of story.

 

Seeing how the firstcomers understandably went bonkers as various parcel owners overextended camp visits and became permanent invasive occupational forces to reckon with, the philosophical might've thought it all a bit odd: A place that had started out championing primitive rec properties suddenly began busting the chops of anyone camping on them for 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 they regarded them almost like so many wanted criminals, keeping track of permissible days left before throwing them under the bus in righteous fury...it was definitely a situation full of sad irony.

 

The place had started as do-your-own-thing recreational lots, then tried transforming into a residential community, then the identity of the development got so muddled it would end up supporting neither.

 

The Vista Through Time
1965-2015 
[part 6]

 
 

Power to the people (some, anyhow)

 

In the early seventies, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund. The plan was to extend power lines to select parcels whose owners committed to  bringing in a well and building to code or bringing in a mobile. To transform the place into a backwoods community, or even just to accommodate power-thirsty trailer amenities, one needed to supply that ubiquitous energy elixir so much of humanity was hooked on.

 

The initial goal was simply to extend a few lines. But apparently so many got enthused over developer Collin's idea (maybe given to him by some of the vacationing parcel holders) of building retirement homes here that ambition made a quantum leap. Property owners now envisioned electrifying the whole dang place, every last lot. A volunteer assessment was levied, and, while contribution to the fund was optional, the power company, no doubt on the strength of developer Collins’s assurances he’d work to get everyone on board, made tentative commitment to extend power lines to every parcel.

 

The place was reaching another turning point: If everyone went along, it would 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, with the adequate water supply and hygienic waste disposal means for each lot still to be reckoned with individually by any individual lot holder wanting to go further and build a residence or code-approved vacation cabin.

 

The backwoods realm appeared on the verge of reinventing itself, if only in a scrambling to catch up, patchwork sort of way.

 

But nothing comes easy. While three in four -- some 1,200 parcel holders -- got on board with the plan and ponied up, fired with enthusiasm or thinking it would increase the parcels' values and sellability, a quarter of the membership rebelled. They refused to chip in despite a 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...", going on to try convincing the holdouts to reconsider chipping in.

 


To no avail. 

 

Some who actually visited their parcels no doubt decided they were fine enjoying the primitive parcels just the way they were, thank you very much. They relished roughing it and felt unsightly power lines and poles would only despoil the scenery and erode the place's relatively pristine charm. They'd bought primitive land cheap for simple rustic vacation use. Many probably never had intentions to do anything with their land in the foreseeable future than rough-in a driveway and build a stone campfire ring, maybe build an outhouse if 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 only defeated the purpose and seemed a harbinger to owners wrecking the place as the primitive camp lands they bought them to be.

 

That said, probably most of those refusing to chip in were the vast majority of disinterested investors and speculators. They no doubt already had second thoughts on the possible boondoggle they'd somehow managed to get themselves involved in. Property values weren't increasing as fast as they'd hoped, and the anticipated thrill of making easy money appeared to be going bust, now appearing as a scheme they were asked to put more money into. They'd soured on the place, and things were getting confusing with people actually settling down on supposed dedicated vacation parcels. People were getting over ambitious and trying to turn the place into a whole new critter, one that would no doubt require more and bigger special assessments as time went on.

 

They were loathe to sink another cent into what appeared to have all the earmarks of becoming a money pit. It's possible some reasoned that getting power to every lot in itself wouldn't appreciably increase the parcels' market values, due to the remaining iffy water situation and sometimes problematic waste disposal matter. Maybe their disenchantment was in part born of skepticism that not enough would ever want to live out in the middle of nowhere, so far from long accustomed city conveniences -- or even want to build a simple electrified vacation cabin for seasonal use -- and so property values would continue to stall. Since the place was no longer dedicated for recreational use, it appeared desirable to neither interest and would likely prove disastrous to ever move the parcels at a decent profit.

 

Sorry, out of luck

As a result, the power and light fund was limited. First come, first served, good 'til gone. After a dozen or two soon-to-be owner-builders -- jazzed at the idea of living in such natural seclusion -- went for it, the fund dried up. The power company, having anticipated a flood of new, power-guzzling customers,promptly backed out of the commitment. They'd been discouraged anyhow by the frequent drill bit-shattering lava rock strata they encountered that required expensive replacements. (A similar problem was experienced by some owners trying to excavate workable conventional septic systems.)

 

Before the tide turned and efforts aborted, the power company had already planted and connected towering street lamps at all five highway A-12 entrances. 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 green-lit. (They must've taken keen delight in the convenience of being able to sabotage the place without even having to leave 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. Entrances were once again obscured in darkness after nightfall.

 

All told, maybe only some ten to fifteen percent of the 1,641 parcels had ever got connected to the power grid over time. Some owners who'd contributed to the fund -- assuming everyone would -- no doubt became bitter and sold in disgust, perhaps even at a loss, feeling they'd thrown good money after bad and wanting to cut their losses. Or they kept the lots, still thinking to build, but were furious over the sorry course of events in which they'd effectively subsidized others to more affordably become legal residents while they were left out in the cold (or in the dark). When they were ready to build, they were told sorry, out of luck, and the power company then quoted them a shocking five-figure estimate to extend the lines

 

 Lot owners had failed to get on the same page in their vision of the place.  

Add this teeth-gnashing to the place's growing contentious spirit and increasing climate of discombobulation. It was the beginning of serious contentious energies spreading among parcel owners, long before code compliance battles became an issue. 

 

Place didn't catch the solar-electric wave 

Later, the place would miss a sure bet by 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 provide go-juice. It could be so sunshiny here on some March days, one might be enjoying soaking up the rays while in Weed, a mere fifteen miles away, hunched-over snow shovelers still wistfully still dreamed of spring. The first solar electric system was installed by a 1970s' resident, Brian Green, late co-founding photographer of Homepower magazine, what in time became the premier go-to resource guide for alternate-energy home systems.* (In contrast to the Vista, not far away McCloud region’s Shasta Forest subdivision was even further off the grid, yet its lot owners, dutifully code-compliant, came to embrace solar full tilt as a much more affordable -- not to mention environmentally friendlier -- solution to their power needs.)

 

____________________________

 

*While the later owner of Brian Green's home would lose the place to the Lava Fire of 2021, one thing miraculously would survive unscathed: the latest bank of solar panels. Safely perched above on its metal stand in a clearing amid otherwise total devastation (until swiped), 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 small set-up, showing you didn't have to spend a fortune to create an off-grid system, if content to have just a few basic electrical amenities and go with alternate power sources for others like wood heat, and propane for cooking and refrigeration.)

____________________________

 

Well, well

While many hit good water, often between 175 to 350 feet or so, the wells of others were sometimes plagued with iron levels that dyed laundry pink or arsenic levels that made drinking the water 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 the writer, had drilled a well with water having arsenic levels within then-acceptable health department limits when properly treated. Years later, they both died not very far apart. While writer never learned if arsenic poisoning was determined a contributing cause of death, not long after the county health department drastically reduced future wells' acceptable arsenic levels.

__________________ 

 

As related, developer Collins and a group of owner volunteers had gotten together to establish an informal, de facto community well. They constructed the huge holding tank with an enormous overhead valve, which all settling land owners were then welcome to use by filling the community water truck until their own wells were in, and a spigot was provided for filling up containers during everyone's camping visits. When 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 the county health department, on the wings of steeper California water-use laws, that the unofficial, never-sanctioned community well was, well, illegal. Plus, the water truck wasn't certified for delivering potable water. Department head Dr. Bayuk capped the 26-resident club membership with an iron fist. He told us at the specially called meeting, held at then board president John Shelton's house on Gilman Road, that he had discretionary powers to allow a code variance and would let current POWW members -- but only POWW members -- continue drawing from the well and haul water to their homes. This was done in light of so many members having sold former homes and built here on the strength of realtors’ assurance there was a community well, so one needn’t bring in a well before building. The health department had taken pity on them. The building department went along with the variance or they couldn't have issued building permits to well-less parcels the way they did.

 

He insisted all others drill an approved well before they could get a septic and building permit and thus be given official blessing to live on their properties. Leastwise, not for more than 30 days a year without being made to feel they were overstaying their welcome by the ever-vigilant 'neighbors' forever wound up trying to keep the rabble out. He foresaw the POWW memberships, nontransferable to any subsequent home buyers, fading away over time as people got wells in, died, or the properties were sold to new owners who'd then ostensibly have to prove a well before being legally allowed to move in. 

 

We were apparently on our honor to comply, but inertia -- ridiculously strong in Vista's manana land -- reigned supreme. And a way of living had been established. 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 hunkering down hopefully below radar of snoopy neighbors and the powers that be kept filling up at the well. 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 extended, initially to power the well pump.

 

As a result, while the 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 ago through property ownership transfers. Yet current owners were still merrily hauling away. The county apparently didn't want to mess with homes once they'd passed final inspection; the code enforcers' job was completed as far as they were concerned. Never told anything different, new homeowners assumed water hauling rights were transferable.

 

Unfortunately, this lent the impression to prospective new residents that one didn't need to first get a well in before being eligible to get a building permit. It seemed 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 homes never put in a well but they got building permits; why can't I? That's not fair." 

 

While Dr. Bayuk had 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. Obviously, no one wanted to volunteer for guard duty, and fencing off and padlocking access was likely seen as either unfeasible, impractical. or more work and expense than anyone felt enough civic duty to bother 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 all the confusion and contention, it  served as a substantial visible reminder of the place's promising beginnings as a proto-community.

 

Hey, it comes with the property

Fast-forward decades and things were still out of control. Residents on the cheap, never intending to drill, kept using the well. Again, they assumed it was an officially sanctioned community well and a permanent water-rights amenity that came with lot ownership.

 

One neighbor on Placone Road made daily hot-summer drives for a teeming menagerie of thirsty livestock in ancient Cadillac, backseat removed and crammed full, along with the trunk, with lidded five-gallon buckets and Jerry cans.

 

Some reportedly copped showers there. Risking a quick shower at the well site, with infrequent 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 an exotic 95-degree day. As some freer-minded dwellers in warmer weather routinely went about with few or 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 a dandy nudist camp.

 

Finally, Vista board members, led by then-president George Gosting, were fed up and fearful of getting fined by the state. Well-owning residents were outraged over their annual dues going to replace the pump and cover monthly power bills, as they felt they were effectively both subsidizing and enabling code noncompliance. So the board came up with a solution: get rid of the bugger. They sold it outright, no discussion or prior notice to association members. Done deal, end of story. Except for the unbridled fury of countless, suddenly well-less, mostly 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, well-less modular dwelling on Stewart Road, on far-fetched racketeering charges. They'd perhaps leaned on the mistaken assumption 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 an intolerable building moratorium was being 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 difficult water and for being in such remote hinterlands. And, again, the Vista seemed to be under its own dreamland spell; somehow it 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 rules as residents saw fit -- and even then they were only suggestions.

 

So various land-hungry buyers on a shoestring, lured by the bargain lands and not exercising due diligence, felt majorly scammed when roused by irate residents and the county and told they couldn’t live on their properties without first passing a perc test and then putting in an approved well. 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 of the situation. It could appear that they were somehow all in concert to churn the problematic, marginal properties for quick gain and then keeping a power hold over the place and its usability.  They seemed to be preying on people's desire to own their own land, fully aware many eager buyers couldn't afford to meet the endless legal residency requirements 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 perhaps downplayed the legal problems of living on it as-is, offering a wink as if to say the rules often went unenforced; then the purchaser, disillusioned once getting hassled by imperious neighbors, the board, and county authorities, quit paying their annual POA assessment in protest; then eventually the lot was foreclosed on and the Association, repossessing it, re-listed it, and realtors waited for next suc -- er, buyer -- to come along.

 

In later times, undoubtedly many buyers DID know the score but didn’t care. In the changing social climate and sketchy enforcement, they were game to join Vista’s growing non-compliant population. They were further emboldened when the county axed its residential-code enforcer position during a critical five year period, starting with the Great Recession of 2008-09, and then seemed to lack the teeth and political will to enforce residency requirements once brought back. The county had, again, long considered the Vista a hopeless case, best ignored.

 

Such a situation naturally lent the impression of Anything Goes in the remote 'badlands.'

 

Of course, it was always Buyer Beware. But you’d think your more sporting realtors might’ve at least posted this 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 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.

 

Plenty of room left in Hotel California:

Trouble in River City, revisited one last time

Most if not all of Shasta Vista’s founding families seemed to have either known each other from down south or met during earliest annual summer camping vacations. The retirement-age couples, flush with cash from selling pricey city digs, then built most of the first full-on legal residences. The territorial imperative being strong, they'd aimed to segue the one-time rustic camping lands into their own de facto rural retirement community, let the chips fall where they may. But theirs could seem an over-refined gentility, with such pronounced, buttoned down, urbane, breezy SoCal sensibilities and full law-and-order embrace, that some might've thought the mindset surreally out of place at the top of more freewheeling northern California, even if in a traditionally conservative rural part of it.

 

Anyhow, in ways that counted the Vista became their place. Their tight-wound influence lingered for decades, even after losing their would-be Shangri-la, long shaping the development's social climate and collective mindset. 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.

 

The modern-day pioneers experienced such angst seeing their place lose its incipient respectable, legitimate-community status once the flood of non-compliant started invading the realm, that, as often noted, they went purely bonkers. The board’s appointed duties expanded to include blowing the whistle to the county over every last unapproved construction or camp visit that appeared to be leaning towards permanent residency.

 

Desperate to preserve the endangered retirement haven, they'd rung the phones off the hook, reporting every infraction their diligent searches uncovered. Board members and their cohorts had demanded county authorities hold every scofflaw's feet to the fire for having so blatantly tried to sneak 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 ever-growing plague of noncompliance.

 

At some point they'd had enough and started grinding their teeth for having to so constantly deal with the major problem child with a relatively slim tax-generating base...one whose situation, no matter how much they tried getting a handle on things, seemed like a bottomless cup of trouble. It was like a boat springing new leaks faster than they could plug existing ones, so bailing seemed futile.

 

Of course this was unacceptable to the firstcomers. Gone around the bend, they embraced law and order for all it was worth as the place's one and only means of salvation. Volunteer posses blitzed the land, patrolling endless back roads and running to earth anyone daring to try calling the Vista home while ignoring the residential standards that were etched in stone.  

 

Their Whack-a-Mole efforts in overdrive, posse members eventually wouldn’t even talk to the culprits. (They'd maybe tried earlier, some no doubt in a high-handed, imperious manner, then got huffy when told what they could do with their regulations.) They'd just drive by then, stopping just long enough 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 last minutiae of noncompliance the latest bloodhound efforts discovered.

 

It was for such scorched earth campaigning that the unkind moniker of "the gestapo" got bestowed on the board by Vista's more live-and-let-live residents. Some of them had also gone through the compliance ordeal and knew how unreasonably steep the code demands seemed for any wanting to live in the middle of nowhere and simplify their lives. They were stunned such a ugly, zero-tolerance policy erupted. Playing ruthless hardball somehow just didn't seem to go with living in a would-be tranquil realm. Even though the place had woefully derailed, one might've thought there had to be a better way to resolve matters. But maybe not, not short of changing legal-residency regulations.

 

Maybe the situation was so far gone that the only thing for the put-off compliant residents to do was to accept their one-time Shangri-la was history, that the system they'd relied on to protect the place had abysmally broken down. But 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 vengeful satisfaction trying to make things as thoroughly unpleasant as possible for anyone who'd dared to crash their party.

 

Driving around the neighboring Section 13 long ago, the writer one day met a high-spirited man and his pregnant partner at 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 might say it was a person's own fault for not having first done research on the local situation. Or that they'd obviously known the score but rolled the dice anyhow, thinking it was such cheap land it was worth a shot trying to end-run the system. 

 

In any event, man of the would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating simple affordable backwoods living got obliterated during Vista’s Intolerable Years, that period, again, roughly spanning from the mid 1970s through most of the 1990s. Here and there, half-completed structures of varying ambition and construction stood abandoned and forlorn, radioactive from code-violation busts or its 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, doncha know.") 

 

Vista’s seemingly affordable, easy-come, easy-go lands over the decades often instead proved to be easy-come, hard-go. 

 

Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista, now leave:

writer's first impression

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 boldface that fairly shouted:

 

HEALTH AND BUILDING CODES STRICTLY ENFORCED

 

Woe betide any poor soul failing to heed such a no-nonsense warning.

 

So along came your land-hungry writer, a rambling, homeless 29 year-old, would-be nature boy of decidedly threadbare means, burned out living on the road and visions of building a bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. Having champagne taste but living on a beer budget, I soon warmed to the notion of building in the bone-dry yet unspoiled and super-affordable juniper lands instead of the redwood creek side of my dreams -- to blasted code if that’s what it took and meager resources and a steep learning curve allowed. Though it would prove the biggest project of my life till then, at least lumber was fairly cheap and the building code a smidgen less onerous -- if then fully 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 then listed between $1,500 and $1,750., with easy terms of $250. down and $25./month -- the place obviously appeared 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.”

 

Or, more concisely, like the greeting sign in the Eastwood western movie, High Plain's Drifter, “Welcome to Hell.”

 

On reading the further warning, in more huge black lettering, “Private Property -- Trespassers will be Prosecuted,” part of me felt I might be arrested any second. Like I’d stumbled onto some top-secret government compound or something and should turn around while there was still time.

 

But, as was the case with countless land seekers on a shoestring before and after me, cheap lot prices won out over common sense, eclipsing any first impression screaming red alert.

 

Such sign wording was, naturally, meant to discourage any would-be substandard dwellings or, perish the thought, white trailer trash, hop-headed bikers, or scraggly hippie types wanting 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, long-vacant mobile was once snatched in the dead of night from one lot and hauled two miles to another without consequence.)

 

Maybe they'd needed that loud bark.

 

...with screenplay by Rod Serling

But the working principles of Chinese feng shui holds that the given energy at an entrance sets up a vibration that the place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording indeed seemed to ripple out throughout the realm, especially when reinforced by similar huge signs planted at each section corner. Friends visiting me decades later, as if not wanting to tempt fate and risk impoundment, parked their vehicle forward of the barking sign and walked the entire way in, over a mile.

 

Entering the Vista for the first time could feel 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 it might just as well have proclaimed, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

_____________________________________________________________________

 

Vista through Time
1965-2015
[part 7] 

 

"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only

when we know the path which has led to the present."

 -- Adlai E. Stevenson

 

Lost cause revisited, one last time

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, the proceedings, dull as dishwater sometimes, were a caution others. Gnarly shouting matches were not uncommon. Once, a fistfight broke out on the floor.

 

It was as if the place had grown some deadly cancer. Left unchecked, it was fatally metastasizing. The tsunami waves of bickering among malcontent dwellers was so overwhelming it would've made fine fodder for gonzo journalist and author 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 the diggings to themselves, intoxicated with all their good fortune, things suddenly turned to pandemonium once the flood of fellow seekers of the prized yellow stone descended en masse. Similarly, earliest Vistans had briefly luxuriated in having the domain all to themselves. They established their own lifestyle and had blind faith in local government regulators to keep a semblance of fair-minded law and order in their de facto rural retirement village.  But, like the first miners, they got run over and never even got the number of the truck. 

 

Eventually, they  became like so many mad King Lears imperiously shouting law-and-order commands into the winds.

 

When newcomers first moved in, making bold to ignore code requirements, firstcomers still had the ball in their court through established relations with county code enforcers and a steel lock on board membership. They ran with the ball, clinging to it for dear life. They'd soon 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 to do their damnedest to keep county health and building codes enforced to prevent the fabric of their fledgling community from unraveling.

 

Desolated and shocked beyond endurance once depended on county enforcement responses grew thin, overwrought board members and cohorts, never say die, kept clad in their armor. Mace and sword at the ready, they kept engaging in full-on, take-no-prisoners battles; they'd either win or go down with the ship. For a while at meetings, they'd try to dodge public discussion on potentially inflammatory proposals by steamrolling the agenda through, mumbling “public comments?” out of the side of their mouths before taking a fast vote: "Motion?...second?...all in favor...motion carried." They were banking on newbies’ unfamiliarity with formal meeting procedure. Shouts of protest once concerned newbies got hip to their trick were countered by simpering yells from board supporters: “Robert's Rules! Robert's Rules!”

 

Yet despite their dedicated efforts, the well-heeled firstcomers’ dream of forging a conventional backwoods retirement Shangri-la deep in nature had inexorably turned into a nightmare. The Vista was coming apart at the seams before their very eyes.

 

As yet more settled in the junipers and sagebrush lands -- many, as said, of such modest means and free-spirited mindsets that the notion of building to code wasn't even considered -- the limited-resource country's code-enforcement officers' responsiveness reached a tipping point. Beyond it they were unable and/or unwilling to effectively enforce the codes and ordinances (the very ones people living in town, nowhere to hide, perforce would toe the line on). This, despite  -- or perhaps because of  -- being duly appraised and constantly updated of the increasingly dire situation by the seething legal residency which harangued them with each new-found infraction and demanded swift response. The notion of taking an early retirement must've started looking good to some public servants.

 

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 didn't even exist. (Not unlike the place's scofflaw dwellers towards their residential ordinances). That is, not beyond the county's property tax collectors' and property assessors' unfailing attention to every single parcel and what improvements, if any, were made so they could squeeze out more shekels through annual property tax assessments.

 

Before thistipping point was finally reached, it seemed the only responses made, other than for actual emergencies, were to the most persistent calls from fuming parties, those who knew the law and had perhaps threatened legal action if they didn't respond. They'd become such pains that it was finally easier to reluctantly 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. Some scofflaws would indeed then clear out, fantasies of easy, cheap country living gone bust. Others, more hardened, kept right on living the way they were, let the devil take the hindmost. They felt that inertia and property rights, plus the county's enforcement resources being overwhelmed, would ultimately win the war.

 

More and more often they'd prove themselves right.

 

White bread outpost?

Though some might've experienced mixed feelings towards the firstcomers' intolerance over substandard construction and sanitation and their aggressive response, one couldn't help but sympathize with the plight. What a heartbreaking situation it must've been, seeing the place they'd invested so heavily in, nurturing fond hopes of enjoying their golden years here irretrievably slip away. Perhaps it was not too unlike a predestined romance shorting out for one being asleep at the wheel at the critical moment. The Vista could’ve, should've, would've been such a nicely settled, enviable, upright 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 by then perhaps 300 to 350 -- were overwhelmingly white. Though 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 (and, 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 intentions.

 

The scene perhaps reflected rural Siskiyou county as a whole, so predominantly white it might've appeared to be -- not without some truth --  a narrow minded, passively racist backwater to any people of color arriving from a large melting-pot city with their leaning towards more relatively mutual racial tolerance, inclusivity and everyday intercultural mingling. A more diverse Vista residency from the start might've made the would-be community a more culturally rich and thriving development. But it was all a moot point, for Wonder Bread it was for a full half century.

Fine line

Anyone generally respecting the rule of law held that a development needed its residents to work together on some level and follow certain established rules in order to keep things safe and pleasant -- the acid test being one’s children -- for all committing to hanging their hats there. Otherwise, weeds of civic indifference and scofflaw attitudes could spring up, filling a social vacuum and choking a place's livability.

 

But it made simple country living all but impossible if ordinances were TOO strict, too expensive, too onerous for the majority of would-be legal residents 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.”

 

There was a fine line between having enough rules and regulations to keep at least a semblance of fair-minded order and having too many and courting sure rebellion. In any event, as mentioned, developer Collins would never have gotten the Vista development greenlit if he hadn't agreed to set up the CC&Rs to have every buyer agree by signing the legal title paperwork to conform to all county, state and federal rules, laws and ordinances. (A cynical neighbor once told the writer, "Government makes lairs, cheats and horse thieves out of us all."

 

The rush of having one’s own land in such a relatively remote region, though, could easily obscure the reality of there being any such county or state regulations to conform to. There wasn't anyone around to say 'boo' -- especially after the county abandoned its residential code-enforcement in its drastic budget-slashing measure for several critical years during the first half of the 2010's.  

______________________

 

“I say we got Trouble...with a capital ‘T’...”

Writer's own tale

 

(Note: the reader might opt to skip this diversionary section; it offers a brief personal history of the writer living in the Vista.) 

In October 1978 I snapped up a nice, gently sloping lot with an inspiring mountain view for $1,750, with $250 down and $25 a month easy installments for the balance. I'd get by for eleven years with kerosene lamps and candles, before going solar in 1989 when solar panels still cost ten times more than now, even adjusting for inflation. (A one-by-four foot, 50 watt panel ran over $400.)

 

It was an early fall, so I set up a quick camp. While days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures were already plunging to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F.  During my first morning after overnighting, an older man drove by. Perhaps he wasn't part of the volunteer posse, but nonetheless was wound up like most every compliant year-round resident feeling their place was being invaded -- 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 on his brakes, climbed out, and stood there pointedly looking at my fire.

 

“You got a permit for that?” he demanded. Thus were my first words of welcome from the would-be community before I even had my first sip of morning coffee. They weren't encouraging.

 

Fast forward six weeks, and I apparently waited too long to apply for a building permit -- and, crucially, first join the POWW water-truck club in lieu of drilling a well, to be able to qualify for a building permit. As a result I was destined to get the full "Unwelcome Wagon" treatment from sundry busybodies in a development that, I was more fully beginning to appreciate, more than 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 (if also having a contrary, intellectually-radical streak), I was 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 at a half-mile distant, 12-by-16 foot cabin that kindhearted neighbors, leaving as the fair-weather season wound down and taking  pity on my situation, offered to let me, a total stranger, winter in.

 

This, so I wouldn’t freeze to death camping out 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 accustomed spartan lifestyle, extreme-weather bedding and 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 could roar across the land like a runaway freight. Seventy to eighty mph wind speeds were not uncommon; in the late 1980s, we got 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 the 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 a legal onsite construction shelter once securing my building permit.

 

Before I got it, though, I was to experience the full heat of my 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 thus soon learned how some rambling upstart, of obviously modest means, was daring to sneak into their domain, presumably 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 refused to divulge where or to whom.

 

I found that sporting.

 

Now a determined posse was hot on the trail of the latest scofflaw, systematically combing the endless back roads in search. (Apparently my Gotta-permit -for-that? visitor hadn't reported me.) Weeks later, they finally tracked me down when I wasn’t home. They took one look at my thrown-together, mostly underground store shed and verboten outhouse and duly reported me to the county health department. They didn’t know -- or, I suspect, care--  that I had every intention of complying and building to code. (Not that I wanted to, of course, but I valued peace of mind and knew I'd never have it if I didn't.)

 

Their scorched-earth policy allowed no such wiggle room. Equal opportunity hasslers, anyone and everyone the least bit non-compliant, especially those they didn't cotton to as one of them and so maybe deserving of some leeway, was duly thrown under the bus.

 

Busted

Summoned on 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 read me the riot act. He gave me 120 days to get compliant by installing a septic system -- even though I wouldn’t have a completed 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, jowls shaking like Nixon's as he spoke while shaking his head. He no doubt felt I needed an extra dose of fear to get me 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'd explained how they'd promised to let me join the by-then membership-capped water truck club once I was ready to build. So he'd grudgingly allowed me to become POWW's final and twenty-sixth resident member.

 

Being thin-skinned, the experience, happening within months of my arrival loaded with keen expectations, fully traumatized me. Before the last minute reprieve, I'd all but 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 was resolved 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 of my original happiness over securing the land.

 

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, but first inspected, tank and leach field. In part for the benefit of any busybodies driving by to check out the scene of the troublemaker's almost-bust, maybe hoping to find some new reportable offense, I painted on the side facing the road, in big, 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-slung squatter affair cleverly disguised as a doghouse, water bowl and leash in front, a piece of plywood and big cushion hiding the hole. No one ever discovered the ruse.

 

Over a leisurely three and a half years I then built a code-approved, 1½ story, solar-tempered little-big cabin. I used only hand tools, wanting the building experience to feel intimate, leisurely and old-fashioned, and still having lots of energy to burn at my age. I hired help for the open-beam roofing and electrical and scrounged recycled lumber whenever possible. It appeared I was on the verge of becoming a tenuously respectable resident. Not that I was 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 his 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 to do good for the chronically floundering, perpetually at odds with itself in the would-be community.

 

Working under the gun of county code enforcers -- who I sensed were trading notes with ever-wary Vista board members and their minions -- was so depressing it drove me to drink. I learned firsthand how board members and their ilk had a gift for radicalizing the place's denizens in the hell-bent campaign to return the place to some semblance of its former glory of absolute conformity -- or, in frustration, demand a pound of flesh by giving hell to anyone not compliant.  It felt as if the place was caught up in a negative reactionary spiral, trapped in some contention-drenched, never-ending time loop of permanent discord.

 

On the wings of getting my 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 who obviously didn't seem to like the cut of my jib.

 

Rainbow fever

I soon got into worse trouble. It seems I'd decide to celebrate the return of Halley’s Comet by hosting a months-long rainbow family camp on my land.

 

In 1984, the annual national alternative-culture rainbow family gathering event was going to be held in California for the first time ever since its start some 12 years earlier. It would be somewhere in an area a two hour drive away in the Warner Mountains wilderness, a ways from Alturas, 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 be pouring in from everywhere, including overseas. Many had nowhere to go until the public-forest site was determined, many months away yet.

 

Wanting to reconnect with my roots while evening the ledger for all the countless people who'd helped me over long years on the road  -- plus thinking to maybe liberate the stodgy development a bit -- I opened up my land and resources to all comers for the next five months. Like those Vistan firstcomers who built homes amidst an ostensible rec-land development seemingly indifferent to what troubles it might create, I was equally determined to let the chips fall where they may in hosting a motley group that was the very antithesis of the strictly law-and-order Vista powers that be.

 

I solemnly tendered my invite by letter to the rainbow steering committee then holding monthly steering committee meetings in a City Hall room (of all places) 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 early-comer wired spirits, often in colorful, glad-rag garb and sometimes outlandish rigs, traipsed in and out of the buttoned-down-and-proud Vista hinterlands, like aliens from another planet. Rainbow elders set up three 28-foot yurts  -- formerly part of the Seattle area's controversial Love Family spiritual sect -- on the parcel's lower back acre. "There's your UFO, Stuart," one told me as the central yurt went up; earlier I'd mentioned how I'd always liked to fantasize a scout ship landing on the parcel.  I had named the land Earth Base in a variation of a former Seattle Capitol Hill fire station which had transformed into a community center and renamed it 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 brilliant technicolor, though a few off-putting power trips would tarnish such a happy impression: humans being humans, it wasn't all peace and love.

 

Predictably, once my terminally convention-minded neighbors, most living miles away, heard about it, they had a royal conniption fit. Though a few more liberal-minded retirees seemed tickled by it all, possibly rebels at heart who didn't see anything too threatening about the surreal scene, others were having kittens. No free-spirited long-hairs, with all their flagrant pot-smoking (then still very much illegal), shameless nudity, and unsettling tribal drumming into the night...not in their one-time Shangri-la now going to rack and ruin, dammit. One family per parcel; that was a Vista rule etched in stone. (Claims of “Hey, we ARE one family” didn't cut much ice.)

Fairly 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 was basically a harmless if freaky bunch (apart from gleefully ignoring pot laws and sometimes unabashed nudists), causing only a temporary glitch in the terminally dull, conventional order of things, must've told apoplectic neighbors to chill a while, grit their teeth, it'd soon be over.

 

Jaws surely 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 perhaps at the risk of encouraging anarchy to gain a permanent foothold in the land. 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 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!" 

 

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Gone eleven months of the year

The firstcomers' control-freak stance, as noted, had been in part born of feeling a strong need to post serious signs everywhere to try protecting the place and left belongings while living up to 700 miles away 11 months of the year. Mischief-minded locals, resenting the sudden takeover of their former longtime stomping grounds, had a hell-for-leather field day during their extended absences...which of course got visiting owners apoplectic on their return, their hoped for carefree vacations, anticipated all year, met with an ugly reality check.

 

The natives, some third or fourth generation descendants of the region's pioneers and well set in their ways, were far from welcoming the big city-based, parcel-buying newcomers into their fold. They mounted what amounted to a rebellious, "You may think it's your land, but it's still ours; we'll never recognize your damn place" campaign. The endless miles of ungated groomed backroads were ideal for dirt bikers to gouge deep donuts in, and more delinquent-minded youth couldn't resist engaging in more spirited hell raising, stealing and vandalizing at will.  Unruly youth -- absorbing the perturbed sentiments of their families and carrying on a proud tradition of protesting the vacationeers' presence -- geared up a protracted war with the foreign la-la-landers who'd dared to take away 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 or two watching over seven square miles of property off season; the actual land owner himself needed to report an incident to get any investigation and some things no doubt went missing a half year before they even discovered it.

 

By the time civic-minded lot owners started living on their parcels and joining the larger community, attending church services, and, in later decades as younger resident families increased, enrolling children in the local schools and joining PTAs, it almost seemed too late to try reversing the long-established vicious circle. Dislike and suspicion of the Vista and its invasive lot owners could seem permanently ingrained in the DNA of locals, their kids, their grandkids...  

 

“Permit? We ain’t got no permit...

I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”

As related, through the 1980s and 1990s the county's health and building ordinances were by and large strictly enforced. Unless one didn’t mind being deemed an outlaw and never earning recognition or acceptance as an “official” resident -- as, in time, it seemed more and more indeed wouldn't -- landowners hoping to become respectable residents tried to comply. Or at least provide the illusion of complying: "See here?  I 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 were forced to make tough budget cuts. Among other actions they'd axed the position of residential-code enforcer seemed to be having little effect anyhow -- leastwise in the Vista. The place was so far gone by then, calling it a lost cause seemed 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 they dang well wanted to on their parcels. The threatening signs that had been erected everywhere were by now seriously biodegrading, dire warnings fading into illegibility. They lent the place the air of being some forlorn, all but abandoned, rural ghost town of a settlement, living out its zombie half-life in singular obscurity.

 

No legal power to fine;

Can a place center without a center?

Other subdivisions that formed in the region about the same time 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, which then had to be paid before land could legally 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 empowered residents to feel more like lords and ladies of the manor as it were, such freedom could attract those with scofflaw intentions who wanted to exploit the seemingly unregulated land, not caring one bit about disturbing the place's treasured peace and quiet and relative pristine nature. Example: the place long ago had a monumental junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by undisturbed wooded lots; it took the board ages to get the county to condemn it and the place be cleaned up.

 

In a democracy it always came down to giving people the freedom to do whatever they wanted, just so long as their actions didn’t interfere with the rights of others to do what they wanted. The greatest good for the greatest number. Liberty vs. license. The flip side of liberty was, of course, the obligation to support the rules of law set up to safeguard such freedom rights, thus serving the greater good. (That the rules sometimes seemed to favor the interests of the wealthier class at the expense of others often getting the short end of the stick was no doubt what always made people want to rebel.)

 

Few Vistan parcel holders -- especially absentee ones, but even some residents -- ever felt the need to build a community center. So it never did. Though its population had grown enough to merit one, there was never enough interest to create such a practical facility, a place where residents and visiting lot owners could meet and get to know each other in a central, neutral, relaxed setting and form informal volunteer action groups like litter patrol, community gardens, swap meets. And have the monthly board meetings actually in the Vista, rather than next door in a tiny fire station backroom.

 

But it was long held in that cramped, cold-fluorescent-lit backroom space off actual 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 or hung over tee enthusiasts to reach the conference room. (In earliest years, they were held hundreds of miles away, at places like the many members’ favorite at the time, the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, to make it easier for the dominant southern California ownership to attend.)

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, it seemed impossible for a quasi community to gain some sense of centeredness without having a center. Needing to leave the place to attend the monthly meeting, and drive over ten miles away to attend its annual meeting? While it struck more than a few as too weird for words, it no doubt reflected the place's total discombobulation as much as anything.

 

“Wouldn’t give you a dime...” vs. “Only $29,999!”

Due to the place’s sundry shortcomings sale values of parcels stalled for decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Interest in the parcels took the meaning of 'soft market' conditions to a new low. Until 2015 unimproved two-to-three acre lots went begging at $5,000. Lacking easier water, septic systems or electricity or any more can-do, fair-minded, empowered board or appropriate CC&Rs, the place practically shouted, "Beware! Failed subdivision!"

 

It didn’t strike many as an inviting place to drop anchor. Only those enjoying roughing it a while. Or those determined to live on the cheap who wouldn't lose any sleep being non-compliant, "Screw the System" their motto. Or those renting houses and mobiles from code-compliant owners who'd moved away, for affordability more than anything else, and tried their best to tune out the place's glaring shortcomings. 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 others move away in a heartbeat.

 

Long ago, I met a former realtor who said of the properties with a heated disdain apparently then common in local property peddling circles, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them!” He said it with such vehemence, you'd think the realm was sitting on top of a radioactive waste dump or something. It made one wonder if maybe he and his colleagues had skirted ugly, protracted lawsuits for misrepresenting properties or endured some other such unpleasantness that made it not worth the paltry commission fees the low-end properties generated.

 

Eventually, however, 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 remedying the obviously under-exploited situation, hoping to make a mint.

 

The first outfit was called National Recreational Properties, Inc.. It had 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 owned a parcel. (Of course, he was given it as part of the deal so he could honestly say that.)

 

The outfit reportedly offered to fly prospective buyers in to enjoy a champagne brunch along before the big pitch and grand tour of the prime affordable properties that offered such rich solitude, fresh air and dazzling mountain views. When they held a grand open house, balloons festooning highway entrances, rumor had it no one even showed. (They were more successful with their Alturas, California area development, California Pines, which boasted over 15,000 one-acre parcels, though each demanded the installation of a pricey engineer-designed septic system which hindered its development.)

 

A few years later, around 2012, another group,  Billyland.com, likewise grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels, possibly taking some off the former's hands. They in turn seemed to aim at gullible land-hungry Internet surfers. They hawked the parcels online, eBay auction style, the 'winner' being the one making the highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they'd gushed. (With low monthly payments and a high interest rate, of course the final cost could run 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 keeping up the land payments and so avoid losing what various legal residents, perhaps uncharitably,  perhaps realistically, viewed as essentially private campgrounds for the homeless. (As of late 2022, they were still trying to hawk a lot or two at $80,000, optimistic the right sucker was surely out there somewhere.)

 

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 of the lots having homes built according to Hoyle.  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 was launched a half century before, minus the various scars of tree poachers and careless off-roaders.

 

Hope sprang eternal for at least some of the speculative landholders still thinking to make a bundle. They set a ridiculously inflated price in listing with the realtor, hoping to snag an eager land-hungry buyer with perhaps 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 close. She was taking one last look at the parcel before signing when a  nearby resident, one Shawn Miller, determined to keep out his own 'wrong kind of people', strode out within view of her buck naked and pranced about for her benefit. It worked; the deal fell through.

 

“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”

It was no secret that county supervisors rued the day they ever greenlit the development. One former Vista board president stalwart, Jeannette Hook, who worked with county officials in her career, 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, fully at the 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, had long ago all but given up trying to deal with the forsaken realm. Responsible enforcement and policy-making parties grew so numb to the perpetual thorn in their side that they tried to forget the inconvenient truth that 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 wouldn't respond short of an actual emergency. They had to appreciate the place was surely a disaster waiting to happen. Yet 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 at last

 

In the spring of 2015, a sudden flood of entrepreneurs -- anticipating the eminent tidal wave of legalized recreational cannabis in California once voters by ballot measure changed the law in late 2016, reducing illegal grows to misdemeanors -- poured in out of nowhere. They snapped up the remote parcels that had for all but the beginning of the place's 50 year history mostly gone begging. The lots were a steal for any willing  to take a chance and bypass the strict grow permitting process that involved both state and county agencies. It would've been a futile effort to apply anyhow, as the conservative county's board of supervisors opted (as the state allowed), banning any regulated commercial cannabis grows outside city limits whose residents could vote to approve.

 

California would become the only western state to reduce the penalty for simple, illicit commercial-scale pot growing from a felony to a misdemeanor. "There's gold in California!" again became the rallying cry as people started pouring in from everywhere. County supervisors might just as well have gone fishing for all the gleeful non-compliance their new ordinances they'd like to think were chiseled in stone inspired. Hundreds of new instant Vista residents, sensing that the ever changing cannabis laws and ordinances were all but unenforceable and a relative slap on the wrist if ever busted -- $500 fine and crop confiscated -- with phenomenal speed would roll out seas of green, unsanctioned grows exceeding the state's allowed personal six-plant plant limit some sixteen-fold, in time some over three-hundred-fold.

 

The phenomenal rush appeared to have caught everyone flatfooted, asleep at the switch, out to lunch, name your metaphor. "No one could've predicted such a thing would happen,"  opined one official to the 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 radically changing times, or able to enforce its own steep ordinances and regulations should enough people opt to ignore them -- had been careening on a collision course with reality for ages...

 

...until avoiding dealing with it finally proved an unwarranted luxury.

 

 

__________

 

Afterword

Fifth century B.C. Chinese philosophy Lao Tse said that the cause of anything is everything and the cause of everything is anything.  Though ending the analysis by perhaps seemingly pointing a finger at county officials as the main culprits, it'd be unfair and over-simplistic to try pinning the blame for what happened to the development on any one cause or party.

 

There was an extraordinarily daunting confluence of factors at play over time, countless ingredients in what was to become the place's recipe for disaster.

 

A brief recap of major contributing factors, then:

 

Seller to land developer Martin didn't bother to first gain permission from the rest of the long-time-owning Martin family, who were content to have the land stay devoted to grazing and hunting for fellow locals, thereby creating a contentious vibe for the realm from the very start

 

Surrounding locals resented the place being allowed to happen, likely including some county supervisor members who voted against its formation, ostensibly for lack of water

 

Ambitious efforts of the first residents, each providing their own well, electrical hookup, etc. before building to code and only then moving in, weren't followed by most future dwellers, despite being crucial to becoming an actual standard community

 

Add:

A sea of indifferent absentee owners, often mere speculators, countless soon nursing serious buyer remorse and, unable to unload the clunker parcels without taking a bath, in the meantime were loathe to sink another cent in the place

 

The firebrand property owners board members, along with other heavily invested first-comer residents -- by reacting to the rash of lot buyers soon determined to live on bought lots without conforming to county health and building code by declaring open war on them, routinely throwing them under the bus by reporting them to authorities -- created an uber-contentious social climate for decades

 

Profit-minded realtors who didn't care a bit what one intended to do with their lots

 

Uninvolved association managers and sometimes board presidents, indifferent to or ineffective in helping efforts of more civic-minded residents make the place more livable, some themselves participating in the eventual crazy realty boom sparked by California liberalizing cannabis laws

 

Stir in:

County officials in time all but abandoning enforcement of the building code and state health regulations for a half decade, starting during the Great Recession

 

More and more free-minded residents deeming home building-code standards too over-complicated and expensive for simple country living on one's own land and so worthy of being ignored

 

 

Mix together and bake 50 years. Result? One giant question mark of a place the public still shakes its head over and dismisses as a tangled mess defying comprehension.

 

Was it any wonder the Vista became such a terminal basket case? All along it seemed it was maybe 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 that's left 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.

 

(Click here  to return to Stewart Springs site if starting from there, or use back-arrow key.)

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