by Stuart Ward
Last tweaked November 2023
Note: This page has nothing to do with Stewart Springs. It's about writer's long-time home front, across the valley from the Springs, and needed a home, is all.
(To return to Springs site any time, click back-page-arrow key or click here)
Shorter versions of parts 1, 2 and 3 were first published
in now-zombied Mt. Shasta Herald September 22 and 29, 2021
* * *
The once sleepy, 50 year-old backwoods subdivision of Mount Shasta Vista underwent a radical sea change starting in 2015. While the would-be rural community had already jumped down the rabbit hole ages before, it was then to discover even greater depths as a haven for unsanctioned commercial cannabis growing. The following insider retrospective explores where the place was coming from leading up to the momentous year. It hopes to explain why it...well, went to pot.. on so many levels. It blends a crazy-quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences, anecdotes, and analysis of why the place derailed so spectacularly. It hopes to explain the reason the beleaguered realm has always been hard-pressed to find much saving grace.
Ward, a Vista resident since 1978, has 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
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, at war with itself once becoming an incongruous 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 health and building departments in particular, along with the community at large that resented its very existence and relegating it an undesirable place to live -- and at perpetual odds with itself, to boot.
That the shared vacation lands originally had no aspirations to be anything more than that 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 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 bit.
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 all.
Called 'ranch roads' by the developer, they were fragile, modest affairs, built up of loose rock substrate over often deep sandy soil with a local volcanic red cinder gravel topping. They were never designed to regularly withstand heavy loads or frequent or fast traffic. A 15 miles-per-hour speed limit was set to help preserve them, plus keep the backwoods' relaxed, tranquil atmosphere intact and dust down. Ongoing maintenance was covered by the annual mandatory-membership property assessment, informally called road dues.
The realm was situated a few miles uphill and east of the 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 was 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 date formal paperwork was filed and time-stamped in Siskiyou county courthouse. This date was used rather than earlier, yet to be filed, date of incorporation, August 18, 1965.
Locals grumbled over how their longtime backwoods hunting, camping and grazing haven had gotten 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 actually build on their lots. Off the record, it seemed some just didn't want the place, period. Such non-supportive sentiments no doubt spread throughout every county department in time.
Thus, an already incredibly contentious situation was well on its way to snowballing further out of control.
A few years later, when the handful of adventurous owners, after many vacations, became keen on the notion of actually retiring on their properties, they soon settled on the recreational parcels, lock, stock and barrel. Each would dutifully first drill an approved well, get power lines extended and install a regulation septic system, thereby supplying all their own infrastructure needs -- all before building their houses 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 such irresistibly low prices -- descended on the land on the cheap. 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. Most were instant homesteaders, moving onto their new 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, went into warp drive. Dutifully code-compliant residents went unhinged, frothing at the mouth. The snowball was growing to such monstrous proportions that it almost seemed as if some demonic force was taking hold of the place, one destined to forever bedevil the would-be tranquil realm.
Over time, between (1) the teeth-gnashing, conforming residents on the warpath over the incipient plague of non-compliant dwellers; (2) rebellious scofflaw residents taking 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 loss for the place having gone so awry; (4) put-upon county authorities over time largely giving up even trying to enforce its own health and building codes; and (5) an embittered farming/ranching community viewing its inhabitants through distorted fun-house mirrors as a weird mix of irascible hillbillies and uptight city exiles ...add these together and the place never had (you knew it was coming) a snowball's chance in hell.
A vexatious spirit would come to infect the realm like some incurable disease. A contentious force field permanently hovered over the otherwise serene high desert woodlands like so many storm clouds, always threatening to rain on the parade of all, code-legal and non-compliant alike.
No matter how many future residents dedicated themselves to try turning things around and salvage the development's early seeming promise, it appeared the place would never amount to more than a stalled-out recreational development that failed to evolve into a standard, recognized community...or even the faintest facsimile thereof.
In realtors' stark parlance, the place was road kill.
Down the rabbit hole
The more free-wheeling, non-compliant dwellers destined to populate the briefly-respectable place jumped down the rabbit hole into their own private world the rarefied land energies could so easily inspire. Soon enjoying wild Mad Hatter tea parties, all but oblivious to the outside world and its innumerable regulations they 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, screaming, "They'll build to code or it's off with their heads!"
Continuing with this Alice in Wonderland analogy a bit more: 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 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 even went so far as to claim Mount Shasta was the root chakra of the entire planet, most everyone agreed that it indeed emanated some very palpable, mysterious, powerful energy that could affect everyone within its field, and perhaps not always in a good way. (That's why First Nation people never lived any closer to it; its energies were too strong for comfort and to do so would show disrespect to its inhabiting gods.)
Being under the mountain's influence could induce some pretty wild fantasies, if not outright hallucinations. It could all but erase from mind any and all pesky notions of dutifully following society's conventional rules. When the non-code living scene, many by people not their kind, caught on, code-compliant dwellers (perhaps more immune to succumbing to its influence) were shocked silly; they saw their fledgling, upscale-rustic community in imminent peril.
If they didn't scramble to stem the tide and demand the county enforce its own health and building codes, all could 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 restore law and order in the now beleaguered wonderland.
Time of course proved their valiant struggle to rescue the place a losing battle. As said, eventually residency code enforcement efforts were all but abandoned by county authorities. Stunned code-compliant retiree residents, devastated over county government's seeming inability and/or unwillingness to any more effectively enforce codes they'd deemed written in stone, were left spitting-nails mad, fit to be tied.
So despite what had appeared to be an auspicious start as a popular shared vacation land, and soon after a respectable embryonic rural retirement enclave, the slew of parcels ended up a giant, messy, oil-and-water 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 had gotten snared between worlds. Chronically skitzy in reason for its being, it was an unwanted child, lacking 'parental' support from the county and local community alike. Its residents and visiting owners, feeling the love (not) and anarchistic energies emerging, were left forever squabbling among themselves. The Vista became frozen in time,forever nursing a serious identity crisis and denied ever finding any 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, maligned parcels. Beyond hopeful investors feeling stuck with their holdings in an arrested development, disinterested speculators hoping to make a fast buck, and those still content to simply retreat on their lots now and then -- beyond these were people for whom the parcels proved irresistible: land-hungry people, allergic to the high cost and hassles of city living. Especially those on a tight budget looking for cheap country land to drop anchor on. If 'between homes', then instantly, hoping to be left alone and live 'between the cracks' of society's lofty living standards. While some, like the writer, would (grudgingly) conform to building code, others, blissfully ignorant of (or studiously ignoring) such mundane, more city-centric regulations being enforced so deep in the boonies, held more of a "What code? You're kidding, right?" attitude. One couldn't blame them; everyone prefers things 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 somehow, a realm far removed from such prosaic realities; (2) its by then mostly abandoned original intent, which created enough confusion, chaos and uncertainty to take ready advantage of; and (3) soon enough the lack of sustained residential code enforcement by the county, despite a solid core of code-compliant dwellers and an all but powerless property owners board lacking fining power, both mostly ineffectively after the first few battles were waged 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 can't be serious." In time, knowing something of the place's code-conformity battle but also of its increasingly spotty enforcement, other newbies boldly went on the offensive, moving into hauled-in, unconnected trailers and mobile homes or building ramshackle shelters, all with a brazen attitude of "Hee, hee, what're you goin' to do about it?" Or like screaming eagles: "Hey, this was still America last time I checked; this is my land and so I'll do whatever I damn well please on it; better back off if you know what's good for you."
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 had time-warped back to the pioneer era, when plains settlers built primitive earth-sheltered soddies and forest settlers threw together basic log cabins. As if, late in the twentieth century, the development had somehow magically become a latter-day frontier far removed from modern times, with all its dratted spirit-stifling regulations over how one was supposed to live on their own property.
In time, certain dwellers -- feeling light years removed from any 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 exercising due diligence. They were giddy over the notion of getting such a generous-sized piece of unspoiled land in such a popular recreational region at such a dirt cheap price. Eureka! It was practically the modern-day equivalent of the pioneering west's Forty Acres and a Mule government deal. The parcels proved so irresistible, 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 their excited dreams and schemes over how they'd enjoy their new secluded woodlands that seemed so safely hidden away beyond modern times' slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
And the inevitable parcel flippers also grabbing them imagined 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, had been willing to make generous allowances for the almost total absence of infrastructure. Water was scarce, waste handling nonexistent, and no more than maybe ten percent of the parcels would ever get connected to power. 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 disaster when more and more would-be residents rolled the dice and settled on parcels without seeking anyone's approval but their own. In proceeding to establish primitive seasonal camps and year-round, ramshackle dwellings, the pedigree of the Vista began its long, irreversible decline from the fledgling standard rural community that respectable residents briefly enjoyed to a seemingly anything-goes, scofflaw outback the county would finally throw up its hands over.
Onerous building code & the owner-builder
Unsanctioned buildings flourished in the 1980s and 1990s. More and more buyers bent on settling their lots appeared to lack the resources and/ or willingness to build anything to code. Freer spirits considered building requirements ridiculously over-complicated, needlessly intrusive and exorbitantly costly. As if they perhaps only reflected the cushy living standard of the more affluent strata of society which then imperiously demanded everyone dance to their tune or else. But hoping to avoid such stringent codes -- and the inflated lifestyles of would-be upward mobiles tempted to live beyond their means and 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, 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 an effort led by a group of outraged Mendocino county, California rural owner-builders to establish less onerous building requirements. It eventually resulted in then-governor Jerry Brown approving a Class K housing bill specifically with such rural owner-builders in mind. But it got so watered down in 1981 by an apparently construction-industry friendly assembly that it was left to each county to adopt or not. Only three did; Siskiyou county wasn't one. Its building department, at home in dealing with contractors who knew the drill in their sleep, seemed owner-builder hostile, not wanting to hold the hand or guide rank amateur builders in the myriad ways demanded to conform to the quagmire of regulations and specifications. They assumed -- not without good reason, given the code's impossibly elaborate, pricey requirements -- that many who were only reluctantly conforming owner-builders would try to 'cheat' the code at every turn.
While such draconian requirements had effectively discouraged earlier, would-be non-compliant builders, in later times, with the one-time iron grip of society's old order weakening, a more rebellious scofflaw attitude emerged. People aspired to build rural shelter however they fancied, not ever thinking of first getting some Mother-may-I? permission from any blasted busy-body, bureaucratic authorities. (Though on a smaller scale, in some circles playing "beat the code" was almost as popular as "cops and growers" would become in later times.) Bound and determined to live on their bought-and-paid-for property and figuring possession was nine-tenths of the law, such Vistans' attitude was, again: "Hey, this is my property and I'll do whatever I want on it; go jump in a lake if you don't like it."
...regret at leisure
As the place's sundry problems became all too clear to Vista parcel holders, an intense love-hate relationship with the land emerged -- especially among those who hoped to actually settle on their lots. 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 any more use of the place than just camp on it up to 30 days a year and avoid being deemed illegal residents -- the lack of infrastructure would require shelling out a small fortune to get residency-legal. The ten-cent parcels seemed to have a hidden million-dollar spoiler attached.
For the same or related reasons, the parcels became an albatross around the necks of investors, speculators and vacationers alike. Their holdings were no longer part of a dedicated recreational development once homes went up and they were usually unable to sell them at a profit anymore as vacation lots to anyone knowing the score -- which didn't take much sussing to learn. One had only to talk to your typical walking wounded resident. Their ears might soon be singed as the disenchanted party warmed to their task, raking the place over the coals with almost demonic intensity.
It was a buyer-remorse pattern destined to be repeated by untold thousands over time.
But the subtle magic and simplicity of an affordable tranquil backwoods under the protective presence of the magical mountain, feeling worlds away from noisy, over-wound city living, kept grabbing new would-be residents and investors alike. The latter thought they'd quickly flip the cheap parcels, while the former were blind to mundane concerns like conforming to then strictly-enforced building code requirements -- until, that is, 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 every 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 fast, creating a simple wilderness retreat, each lot with well-maintained road access 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 attracted many who had zero personal camping interest. Arguably, the majority who snapped up the parcels did so primarily as a long-term investment, if not outright speculation, imagining others -- not them, thank you -- might soon be clamoring to enjoy such nicely secluded, affordable 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 and flirted with the idea of building a vacation cabin or even a residence sometime down the road. For some it was, if nothing else, maybe something interesting 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 own backwoods land. They'd revel in the realm's at times pronounced peace and quiet and charm of the yet mostly intact, high desert backwoods ecosystem.
As far as things went at first, on the surface everything appeared hunky dory. It was easy to be blissfully ignorant of the festering, behind the scene controversy brewing over the place's very creation and the locals' abiding ax-grinding resentment it existed in their backyard, crimping their long-accustomed lifestyle...not to mention the county powers that barely greenlit it and warily looked at it askance ever since.
One had the convenience and luxury of camping on their own bit of nature for free up to 30 days a year rather than pay someone daily to camp, others maybe setting up twenty feet away with a passel of squalling kids. A mini-movement was afoot -- many coming from the Los Angeles region, others from the Bay Area and the Central Valley -- buyers pitching tents and rolling in their travel trailers to the region's inviting wild seclusion, fresh air and seasonally pleasant dry climate.
The terrain was high desert woodlands. Though powerful seasonal windstorms could prove treacherous, the place generally enjoyed an enviable banana belt climate, with often delightful springs and falls. Summers were hot and usually bone dry, but there were plenty of junipers trees and the few scattered pines for inviting shade and the occasional summer thunderstorm to cool things off. Adventurous residents in the west end of section 7 were a modest hike away from a cross-country irrigation canal to submerge in. In such hot weather, the mountain’s spectacular northern glacier-clad side could do wonders keeping one feeling cooler just by gazing on its chilled splendor.
"Bye 'n' bye" came fast
Significantly, it seemed that developer Collins -- owner enthusiasm for extended camping stays spreading in the first years -- couldn't resist throwing out the idea that the parcels might make dandy places to retire to "bye 'n' bye." He relayed this notion in passing in the official Vista newsletter periodically sent to every member and avidly read by that small segment of new, involved owners of the brand spanking new, low-key wilderness parcels, so neatly tucked away at the central top of the golden state, 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 had suggested, as full-on, primary-residence retirement homes.
Like Lake Shastina, it usually got far less snow than nearby Weed or the City of Mt. Shasta, due to the region's phenomenal crazy-quilt of micro-climates created by its massive mountain influence. Just enough to enjoy a winter wonderland now and then without getting a sore back or frostbitten hands shoveling snow, or having to put on chains to get out on never-plowed roads. (Long ago, the place tried plowing after rare heavy snowfalls; the equipment blade tore up the cinder roadbeds so badly, requiring expensive and laborious repair work, that it proved impractical.)
Con su permiso:
dealing with the building code
Of course, it was understood that it was on each would-be resident to spring for getting power lines extended, drilling an approved well and installing an approved septic system -- all to be done before the county would ever deign to issue a building permit...and even then only after submission and approval of exacting plans that met every code requirement. 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 over 42 months.)
Only then would the post office assign the lot a legal street address (or, technically, release a already existing one, assigned by county planning to every parcel) and thus enable one to receive mail at the blacktop entrance boxes, Such an address was also needed for obtaining a state driver's license, registering to vote and qualifying for FedEx and UPS and OnTrac to make home deliveries.
The extensive health and building codes included maddeningly detailed particulars for: permanent foundation; framing method, with itemization down to the grade and variety of lumber and size, type and spacing and specific kind and size of fasteners; minimum structure size; electrification, insulation, full kitchen facilities, indoor plumbing, minimum water pressure... Any unconventional design, like a geodome, earthship, cob home or earth-sheltered residence, required hiring a qualified engineer to certify the submitted plan would prove structurally sound, besides otherwise meeting all requirements and specs. As said, most early Vista owner-builders, having hired others to do most or all the construction, didn't move onto their properties until the houses were completed and given the official county blessing, being duly signed off after a final inspection and thus 'green-tagged' for occupation.
While the Uniform Building Code had been around in the U.S. since 1915, enforcement was relaxed to nonexistent in more rural areas for a long time. Primary focus was concentrated on crowded cities, with their close-packed structures built by detached contractors who'd never live in their creations and were often tempted to take shortcuts on construction integrity that could result in shoddy results and even tragedy for 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, not envisioning the new regulations ever being 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. His commonsense view was obviously abandoned over time, as average living densities increased and government’s bureaucratic powers grew exponentially.
For a long while, country property owners could more or less build their own cabins and cottages to suit themselves, at their leisure, even play it by ear, overall design maybe emerging only half-way through, if then. It was their land and they enjoyed the freedom to build whatever they wanted on it. But with bureaucratic regulations' tendency to be adopted by ever greater numbers over time (cynics would say spreading like a cancer), until at last universalized, authorities came to try insisting the same exhaustive guidelines adhered to in teeming cities be followed as well deep in the furthest reaches of sparsely populated regions, like mostly rural Siskiyou County, on one's obscure property out in the middle of nowhere. It was having such unreasonably heavy-handed, intrusive ordinances in place that would make over time for the eventual serious erosion of respect for the rule of law by more than a few Vista property owners.
Priced to move
Parcels were priced to move fast. Writer seems to remember reading in an old newsletter how they went for between $750. and $975. each (in 1969 dollars, that is, worth almost twice the 2023 dollar), depending on parcel size, location and land features. The developer had relatively low overhead and wasn't out to get rich off the project. He was already successful from urban developments and so could afford to be generous with this one. He appeared to hold a genuine affection for the place and wanted lot sales to feel like the feel-good bargain they were (if for rec use only). Overhead was minimal. There were no steep infrastructure costs beyond putting in and maintaining red-cinder roads, many traced over preexisting logging and hunting roads; surveying and marking off each parcel boundary; erecting entrance and section-corner signs; and planting first-generation, short, 4X4 inch, wooden road sign posts with stenciled lettering, soon camouflaged by fast-growing sagebrush.
No doubt all kinds of first-generation buyers purchased the lots for all kinds of reasons. But, again, countless had snapped them up in pure speculation: "Hey, they're not making any more land." Some doubtless never set foot on them, let alone camp on them. Though others were indeed psyched at the prospect of enjoying their own private campground, and/or maybe saw them as something to enjoy on retirement or to 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 tickled at the notion of owning such (by then) popular recreational properties by fabled Mount Shasta.
That or, as instead happened, the place segued into a very thin but de facto rural community...one that might've actually succeeded and thrived, indeed driving up parcel prices sky high, had every would-be resident taken responsibility for meeting their own infrastructure needs before building, to code, as had most all the first wave of actual residents.
Obviously that didn't happen. Pouring such a heavy investment into primitive, cheap land could seem counter-intuitive. Or something that could only be done by people flush with cash from selling city homes, having a big savings nest egg, or willingness (and eligibility) to take on major debt -- along with, of course, the patient mindset to deal with all the time-consuming, hoop-jumping bureaucratic process of building to code. Understandably, this plan didn't elicit any ringing endorsement from the less solvent -- many of whom wanted to move onto their new lots immediately -- why else buy them? They'd maybe only have enough to cover the modest down and score some derelict mobile home or trailer, or throw up a makeshift shelter on the fly from scrap lumber, and call it okey dokey.
It seemed cheap land and cheap shelters often went together.
Earliest investors of course never anticipated this major wrinkle of a soon-to-emerge epidemic of noncompliance. Between hearing about all 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 naturally build to code, and what had started as simple vacation lands would evolve into something far greater, promising far juicier returns.
Convinced they'd made a smart investment, they patiently sat back and waited for parcel prices to take off.*
* They only had to wait a half century. Parcel values would at long last start a flight to the moon in 2015, when values of unimproved lots skyrocketed from $5,000 to over $150,000 by 2021. This was the result of both a national red-hot realty market and the place's discovery by underground cannabis growers, anticipating California legalizing recreational pot and its largely unenforceable restrictions, which decriminalized unsanctioned commercial grows to a misdemeanor (the only western state to do so), making most any possible bust seem little more bother than a traffic ticket. Lots would sell like crazy for reasons totally unrelated to infrastructure build-up, still almost nil, or formal development plans, still nonexistent, or desirability as a nice place to actually put down roots but for a few.
The startling phenomenon was fully in keeping with the extreme boom-bust nature of the place. One that -- due to factors beyond the scope of this writing -- caused unimproved lot prices to plummet back down by 2022, when they might again find few takers at $10,000 to 20,000. ("Price reduced $80,000.")
The place's extreme boom-bust nature could maybe be likened to a bone-dry desert that experienced a brief flash flood every decade or two. A deluge of land-hungry people and/or cagey speculators descended on the region, driving up prices or trying to, then the land and market returned to default bone-dry conditions.
In the Vista's late sixties' start, every last one of the lots got snapped up inside of 18 months. This fact belies a later popular assumption that the developer had somehow been stuck with parcels nobody wanted. People wanted them all right -- or thought they did, at first. It was the hundreds of absentee owners and those they sold them to who, in time realizing the development had gone cattywampus, couldn't get rid of them fast enough. But they didn't want to sell at a loss. So the odd lots, though charming to any who valued rustic seclusion and the inspiring mountain view, in time became a veritable drug on the market. While still offered cheaply compared to most other similar regional properties, they often found few takers once its bizarre pedigree -- rife with its gnarly, contentious atmosphere, daunting shortcomings, and prohibitive cost of code compliance, long enforced -- became fairly common knowledge.
No one felt stuck with them during those momentous first years, though. A historic back-to-nature movement was ratcheting up into high gear. A healthy minority of parcel buyers were stoked at the prospect of enjoying their own unspoiled bit of nature in one of upper California's popular recreational regions. Such vacationers -- and soon, residents -- saw in the sprawling rural development something of a budding backwoods paradise.
Excited over discovering such an affordable wonderland to vacation in -- or, more commonly, a sure-fire investment -- it seemed everyone and their uncle merrily tumbled down the rabbit hole.
An inside look at
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years:
1965 - 2015
Informal history of one-time recreational development's frustrated efforts to evolve into a standard community
The Vista Thru Time
Further sussing of a most peculiar development
Mt. Shasta Vista was, well, different
In some ways, the Vista was quite different from other rural subdivisions of the region forming about the same time. These included Lake Shastina (3,200 lots, started in 1968); McCloud area’s Shasta Forest (791 lots, launched in 1966); Juniper Valley subdivision (some 240 lots, exact founding date unknown); possibly Hornbrook region’s KRCE (2,050 lots, begun 1967; and Hammond Ranch (launched in 1969, some 430 lots).
One big difference, apart from relative water scarcity, was that the Vista, born a simple recreational development, had never hammered out any master plan for residential growth, there being none until years after its launch, when mostly older repeat camping visitors, retired or planning to, decided to actually build homes 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 tackled. Such a re-imagining plan was crucial if ever hoping to provide an avenue for building out community with any rhyme or reason, including 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 the agreed-on standards, thus working to try assuring maintaining a desired quality level and lifestyle of community. This would've enabled putting a lien on one's ownership title for chronic nonpayment for an infraction and thus worked to establish an at least grudging respect for the rule of law and so, ideally, minimize any scofflaw behavior by property owners.
Of course, that's 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, or vision beyond boilerplate gobbledygook, Mt. Shasta Vista was left struggling to swim upstream against constant strong currents, forever subject to the vagaries of the place's latest owners' sometimes arbitrary druthers. Any effort by the fitful, rotating flock of civic-minded dwellers over time to transform the place from its primitive beginnings into an actual residential community, one that everyone might take some pride in rather than simply "use', proved largely an exercise in futility.
Again, with so many parcel owners absentee and seldom, if ever, visiting, from the very start it seemed that most title holders were simply betting on the place and the hoped for actions of the few -- initially the minority of owners who'd vacation here, and then, later, the even smaller number who actually dropped anchor here, both of whom would naturally be inclined to work to further the place along and increase their lots' desirability and value. Meanwhile they'd just sit back and let things progress. 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 ever imagined. Holders were destined to lose heart in droves not long after the development's one early, promising burst of improvement efforts by residents. By the early 1970s, visiting repeat campers and residents-to-be 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 quickly 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, though, enthusiasm for group efforts seemed to run out of steam. New residents switched gears and scrambled to singly carve out each 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 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 -- suddenly a full-on house and developed property jumped into view. 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 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 had thrown both a fortune and much blood, sweat and tears into -- was in peril. Without updating the CC&Rs, or every future would-be resident toeing the line and meeting 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 impossible impasse. It would be stymied at every turn, despite whatever efforts might be made by the scattered code-compliant residency to keep growing it into some sort of normal, recognized rural community or, again, even the faintest facsimile thereof.
At one point early on, the association did get it together so far as 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 being apprised of sundry matters by other residents and visitors, then relaying reports to board members to suss over at monthly meetings and deal with if action seemed merited. This phase of organized grass roots government showed that, despite the a 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 code violations going on, it at least showed some sort of civic-minded spirit. One that might've indeed served the place well in the long run had it transformed from being a punitive, reactive, law-and-order policing effort into a more positive, fair-minded, cooperative one.
Such rudimentary grass roots efforts in time all but disappeared, victim of -- as they saw it -- too many barbarians storming the gates. And an eventually overwhelmed county code enforcement staff, plus an non-empowered property owner board, unable to prevent them from staying.
The result in time: a soon minority, flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants legal residency found itself between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The white elephant time forgot or tried to
With such a daunting series of snafus and the resulting chaos, most outside interest in the wayward development flatlined for decades. After it outgrew its original planned use but stalled trying to segue into something more (by accepted standards), 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 to move and earn a paltry commission to the minds of many regional realtors.
It was perhaps not unlike other failed rural subdivisions California developers hatched over time. Like the controversial 15,287 one-acre lots of California Pines outside Alturas. Or California City, "America's Largest Abandoned City," 204 square miles (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 would become yet another place 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 grew accustomed to the rich solitude and relished the park-like setting that initially inspired making it an idyllic co-op campground. So few residents amid so much nature proved delightful. But it was terrible for investors and speculators. They found it hard to impossible to sell holdings no longer having anything going for them to entice would-be buyers 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 interested parties.
Again, it didn't help sales efforts any that the place had from the very start gotten such a bad rap, being bitterly resented by farming and ranching locals for crowding their long accustomed rural lifestyle and seen as problematic by the county government.
They appeared to refuse to accept as legitimate the unwanted child left squalling in their midst.
"Just a matter of time"
Many parcel owners held onto the apparent boondoggles, even so; in a dime, in a dollar. They doubled down, paying the piper in the guise of the ever-increasing annual road assessments through gritted teeth, determined not to lose their shirts on what they had first thought such a sure thing. In denial, they refused to believe their investment wouldn't pay off some day.
After ages, finally convinced the place had near-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 few takers. Even at the modest $1,200 to $1,750 asking price and easy terms offered. Those who did snap them up were often only themselves 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 uninformed casual investors, infected with the latest errant round of uninformed speculation fever: "It was such a ridiculously low price, I couldn't resist." Or diehard optimists, thinking to enjoy the parcels themselves once the place got itself together, or at the very least have something of substance to leave their families (and then let them figure out what to do with it).
But beyond such calculated dice rolling, impulsive actions and optimistic, "some day" purchasing were, again, the relative few who actually wanted to move onto the parcels -- some immediately. To them, the lots were pure catnip. They were eager to secure such affordable country land and have their own private retreat property. Or make like Thoreau and live simply on the parcel, letting the rest of the world go by. Or maybe plan in time to build, establish a home business, or commute to work from the property as the place became a bedroom community of sorts. A very few were still willing to build to code and thus fulfill an age-old dream of abandoning urban life and becoming respectable country gentry.
Yet others -- entirely too many to the thinking of the forever foaming-at-the-mouth segment of code-legal residents -- were only looking for an affordable place to hide out on now-marginalized properties, desperately wanting to avoid city rent, with its steep first and last plus security deposit costs, some probably dodging child support or an outstanding arrest warrant or two. Even if it meant drastically downscaling one's living standards and hauling in an aging mobile home or trailer, setting up a tent, or fashioning some ramshackle structure from scrounged building materials on the fly and generating cesspools (at best) for waste and hauling in every last drop of water. And then either firing up generators or going without go-juice. (Even if a power line teasingly skirted their properties, it couldn't be hooked up to any structure without first satisfying the long list of county residential code requirements.)
They'd cross their fingers and hope the powers that be would let them be. With strict law and order still holding sway during the first decades of the place, there was fat chance of that.
Round and round
The mirage of the Mt. Shasta Shangri-la, a dreamy backwoods realm undervalued and under-exploited, kept proving irresistible to all sorts, 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 absences of any interest whatsoever became the Vista dance. After decades, hundreds of parcels were -- apart from campfire stone rings and driveways roughed in, maybe cluttered with an outhouse or abandoned trailer -- still clinging to their relatively pristine states. And so they kept luring new impulsive buyers, wowed by the land's subtle charms and dirt-cheap prices. 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 in the place's first half century, always attracting a new flock of buyers seemingly powerless to resist grabbing such bargain lands in such a picturesque setting, seemingly hidden so nicely far away from the often bothersome ways of '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 thought might say it worked 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 wildly over-amped. Under the mountain's enticing spell the mind reeled, bursting with excited fantasies of what all they'd do with the secluded properties, bought for a song.
You might say it was California dreamin' full tilt.
So the forlorn development kept spinning round and round on its 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 soon soured speculators
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 locales putting a grand whammy on the place, and the high cost of code compliance -- maybe topping the list was the enormous detached force created by the vast sea of absentee lot owners, those who'd invested or speculated in the place and were disconnected from residents' realities and concerns, eventually feeling stuck with lemons that required annual shelling out for assessments as mandatory property owner association members. Such a feeling of aggravated buyer remorse acted to undermine even the most determined efforts of civic minded residents to try salvaging the rustic realm and move it forward into any semblance of solid footing as any sort of viable community.
For, all other problems aside, how could the Vista ever grow with so much of the 90% absentee ownership harboring such indifference, apathetic to the notion of ever doing anything to help rescue the floundering development? Not if it meant sinking even more money through proposed special assessments to fund community projects, leastwise. Even if such projects would serve to increase parcel values by making the place a more desirable one to live in and visit, they were so put off they felt it a hopelessly lost cause.
Countless lot owners lost whatever faith they might've ever held for the development and its potential to become anything more then the chaotic, sub-standard, infrastructure-shy disaster area -- which, perversely, in time it seemed to prefer being.
Nickel and dimed
Those who'd opted to keep the all but unsaleable parcels despite everything (or tried to unload but couldn't), along with the latest round of new, soon disillusioned owners, felt burdened with dud properties in a dead-in-the-water development. Millstones around their necks. Not another blessed cent would they fork out beyond the association's annual property assessment and county's annual property tax. As it was, the former was often only paid amid much kicking and screaming and whines of "I don't even live there or drive on the roads, so why should I have to pay for their upkeep?"
For what it was worth, the annual assessment was worlds cheaper than that of other regional rural subdivisions, except perhaps for 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 nickel-and-dimed to death. Shook down for the latest assessment every fall, they no doubt felt something akin to a trailer park's mobile home owners, the structures theirs but having to keep paying rent on the space they perched on lest they get grabbed away through foreclosure.
Cynics thought the whole set-up smacked of being some sort of racket.
Left for dead
Perhaps predictably, due to the many absentee parcel holders' pronounced disenchantment with the arrested development -- "left for dead" in more realtors' colorful parlance -- the association often suffered late annual assessment payments and nonpayments. Initial optimism for the place having long ago evaporated and the absentee owners upset over having to pony up each year on general principle, the wording on annual billing statements grew a bit testy over time. Key words in large boldface letters defied the association's imperious demand for prompt payment being ignored: PAY WITHIN 30 DAYS TO AVOID SEVERE PENALTY OR FORECLOSURE. It was a far cry from the former lighthearted communication tenor with its spiels of carefree vacations on charmed lands. Things had taken on a decidedly hard edge. The board was grappling with keeping enough revenue coming in to cover the constant maintenance needs of 66 miles of cinder roads that would otherwise return to nature -- and have angry visiting owners hounding them to act.
Such chilly exhortations of annual notices only seemed to encourage some to finally blow off paying altogether. "They're daring me not to pay, huh? Well, maybe I'll just take them up on that; hell, they can have the damn parcel back...worthless piece of crap; why I ever bought into this screwy lotus land it I'll never know; 'FUBAR Acres' might be a more appropriate name for it...mumble grumble..."
Sometimes iffy roads
As more people moved in and the endless cinder roads got more wear, the one-man road manager was increasingly unable to maintain all of them. And none of them anywhere up the immaculate zen standards of earlier years of far fewer residents that had made the roads so pleasant to drive on at a mosey while drinking in the 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 the day before.
Again, this in turn caused various owners to protest paying for roads that were not being kept up -- leastwise not theirs -- the lion's share going to the most heavily trafficked. Like the most problematic, the steep quarter-mile uphill stretch of Perla Road in the front of Section 13; it could routinely gobble thousands of dollars a year to maintain. Sparsely settled and non-settled regions might not see the road truck for a decade or more -- and then often only because some visiting owner who'd driven hundreds of miles to vacation on their more-remote parcel only to get stuck in deep sand on the home stretch and forced to call a tow truck. Rightly furious, they held the association board's feet to the fire, demanding they cover the tow bill. This at last would bestir the board to address the more seriously neglected roads in the woebegone realm's least visited hinterlands, eventually raising the annual assessment fee to cover the increased work load and rising material prices.
Problems like these didn't make for happy campers.
This in dramatic contrast to the first visiting owners who'd absolutely relished camping on their lands and the many who'd later move onto them with infectious high spirits. It was, of course, during the extraordinary "God is alive, magic is afoot" time of the late '60s-early '70s, a time when waves of euphoria might wash over one out of nowhere even if your only drug of choice was aspirin or a good stiff martini.
Raise high the roof beam, carpenters
Again, 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 natural-solitude-hungry city folk.) But many parcels, largely left undisturbed for ages, were part of a rich, fragile high-desert woodlands ecosystem. They could feel enchanted to anyone who appreciated their subtle charms, those who didn't need towering trees and crystal streams to embrace nature. The land held inviting groves of mature junipers, furry green 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 small deer parties that occasionally meandered through.
All lent select areas something of a rarefied atmosphere: it could feel like the place where time stood still.
Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, profound quietude and a giddy sense of freedom for being in such secluded back country, reigned over by the majestic mountain...all combined to inspire psyched repeat vacation visits from afar. Enough to in time move some to want to permanently chuck city living and retire here to enjoy the tranquility and seclusion of country living full-time. Thus, in the late sixties and early seventies the place had briefly become something of a respectable Shangri-la to every nature-loving retiree making the leap and having the bucks to build according to their accustomed lifestyle, which, happily, more or less dovetailed with the stringent health and building code requirements.
Legend had it that the very earliest comers in the late sixties -- among them one building on White Drive, another on Heinzelman Drive -- hadn't even needed building permits to construct their simple cabin and full-on home, respectively. Code enforcement had yet to establish a foothold in the more remote hinterlands of a sparsely settled county. If true, this maybe set a precedent for subsequent owner-builders to feel they needed only 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, but hey, it's my job.)"
No more sketchy subdivisions
Between 1970 and 1972, California passed 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 such bare-bones, quick-buck, often problematic rural developments.
From then on, developers were required to make legally binding commitments to provide all basic infrastructure...plus, over time, they or owner association directors had to spring for public improvements like parks, playgrounds and community centers. It seemed that our place, though grandfathered in under the earlier lax requirements, came to feel intense pressure from the county -- in turn under the gun of the state -- whenever a law-abiding owner wanted to build an approved shelter on their one-time campground parcel.
As related, would-be Vistan homesteaders 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.
Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere, anyhow?
To build or not build community
Maybe county officials had crossed their fingers, hoping there'd never be any who for some strange reason actually wanted to live on 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 had better things to do than foster dubious community. Polarized energies discouraged 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 buzz-saw contentious dysfunctionality was sometimes on full display, offered a fast cure for anyone with an errant, misbegotten notion to try plugging in and help the place along somehow.
Any vision beyond the usual volunteer fire department and rummage sales and such to support it, maybe seeking a grant to fund making the area safer from wildfires, often just didn’t seem to go with the dirt-cheap lots with near-zero infrastructure. One paid dearly for the added features in the more developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, gas, sewage, security, fire department... When you bought land cheap, expectations were low to nonexistent. And some people, craving solitude, bought here expressly because, lacking such civilized touches, it also lacked any viable sense of community that far too often proved to make simple rustic living problematic.
Not so Vista’s cash-rich, starry-eyed pioneers of yore. Bewitched by the region’s allure during simpler times, enough to invest their time, fortunes and fondest hopes, they were stoked at the prospect of working together to carve out a nice rustic retirement community for themselves and any others interested in mustering into the emerging respectable enclave. It was an embryonic rural hideaway sanctuary far from the madding crowd. As a song lyric went, they wanted to believe they were “...going where the living is easy and the people are kind."
Kind of something, anyhow, as it turned out.
The Vista Thru Time
Further reflections on the
one-time vacation land's first 50 years
vs. "up the drawbridge!"
Many new Vista residents felt blessed. Swept up in the joy of service and the grand pioneering adventure of it all, living in the bosom of nature, they were eager to share their good fortune. They'd offer cheerful assistance with new arrivals whenever they could, wanting to see the fledgling backwoods community grow and flourish. Each new denizen of the sparse backwoods settlement was potentially a valuable addition in the budding settlement, even if there were no real guardrails in place to in the CC&Rs to guide it along.
Often these more altruistic souls were residents of homes whose original inhabitants had since moved on, the thrill of Vista living having, well, lost its allure. The relative newcomers hadn't experienced their ordeals of complying with onerous health and building codes only to have others blatantly ignore them, or the blatant vandalism by irate and mischievous locals. They were more in the moment, relaxed, live-and-let-live, sometimes inviting one to share an afternoon 'drinky-poo' on their porch.
Not so others, mostly the first wave of residents, dug in for the duration. Strictly law and order adherents, their spirit was sometimes a tad less egalitarian. They wanted to pull up the drawbridge and so erected huge snarly warning signs everywhere, bound and determined to keep the sorry riff-raff out. They’d bank on Siskiyou county's residential-code enforcement, whose public-service staff salaries their property taxes paid for, to duly protect their rural outpost from ever getting overrun by such misguided souls with the audacity to try getting away with invading their would-be respectable wilderness paradise on the cheap...especially revved-up younger folks of threadbare means...most especially those pot-smoking hippies and beer-guzzling bikers they thought they'd left far behind in the cities.
They knew such lot buyers and would-be settlers were worlds away from ever embracing their law-abiding, retiring ways and would prove ruinous to their nice, 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 -- demanding every property holder earn the right to live on the land, just as they had. They too had to meet all health and building code requirements, no matter the cost, time or effort. If you couldn't afford it or simply didn't want to go down that path, well then, the place is obviously not for you.
So when various and sundry kept moving in on the cheap despite their best efforts to deter or have kicked off, they lost it, sailing clear around the bend. Such pretenders to the realm -- erecting permanent tents, pulling in derelict trailers and mobile homes, building tumbledown structures and hanging up their hats, figuring they were home -- left them utterly fit to be tied. The brazen newcomers in turn appeared either oblivious or indifferent to what the few scattered residents thought of their sudden presence. It was either, "Hey, what's the big deal?", or "Mind your own damn business and we'll get along fine." Many clearly didn't seem a bit concerned over the county ordinances they were ignoring or were in blissful ignorance of. It seemed that being out in the middle of nowhere on secluded cheap land could dull one's perception to feel the need to conform to such bureaucratic nonsense. The illusion of one's property being a stand-alone lot, independent of any outside control, rather than in fact one among 1,641, every last one subject to a sea of regulations, was too alluring not to succumb to.
The growling No this, No that and No the Other Thing signs up everywhere were dismissed as mostly unenforceable bluff. Newcomers went their merry way, "doing their own thing", the vital watch phrase from the rebellious countercultural era, being taken to heart by greater numbers with each passing year 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 going 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 such veritable pretzels in the valiant struggle to preserve their La-la-land-ish, country club enclave from certain rack and ruin, had such an imperious, zero tolerance stance for the scofflaw newcomers invading their domain that the more free-minded land buyers scoped their over-wound mindset and thought, screw 'em, we'll take our chances.
While it was all unfortunate, it was just the way it was. The modern day pioneers -- who diligently crossed every 't' and crossed every 'i', making substantial investments of time, money and blood, sweat and tears-- had conformed to legal residency requirements, and they fully expected every future would-be resident of Mt. Shasta Vista to follow suit; now it seemed such rules didn't even exist.
Almost overnight, their one-time safe-haven backwoods retirement community had turned into its own madding crowd.
Not all newcomers were brazen scofflaws. Some of lesser means were still more or less law abiding. They nurtured hopes of living out their own, simpler vision of idyllic country living but were badly informed. While they had no actual intent to buck the system, their fondest dreams were dashed to smithereens once receiving an antagonized 'unwelcome wagon' visit from their 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, thicker skinned and far less concerned 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 such pronounced combative 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 otherwise empty back roads, sticking to him like glue. While the man was no doubt alarmed, maybe even terrorized, if looking into his rear-view and realizing he'd somehow gained the ire of some crazed madman, one might conclude he was only reaping what he and earlier high-handed board members had sown by the zero tolerance stance.
Home in the country
By the early to mid 1970s, after the first wave or two of settlers settled in following the few late sixties' early birds, a sprinkling of maybe thirty or so year-round, mostly compliant residences had dotted the countryside. While the code defiant had yet to gain a substantial foothold, momentum was growing. The genie was out of the bottle about cheap Mt. Shasta region land. Various and sundry were about to leap at the chance to make the Vista’s sprawling juniper boonies their home, too. In the bigger picture, the notion of one not just visiting but actually living in nature was taking off then. “Head for the hills, brothers!” was the clarion call, as more and more city-weary, nature-hungry souls of all sorts were joining the phenomenal back-to-the-land movement that was ratcheting into high gear.
As serious interest grew in making the exodus from city living, the Vista gained an air of a time-release Oklahoma land rush. In leaps and bounds, excited new arrivals of all sorts were discovering the pleasant place with dirt-cheap prices and started settling in. Or tried to. With the place having no master plan or firm handle of code enforcement, each was winging it, flying blind on arrival to their snapped-up lot. The land experienced the fitful frenzied bursts of shelter construction, some still to code, but more and more definitely not. Industrious sounds of hammering and whining circular saws flooded the air. Writer guesstimates that by the mid to late seventies, maybe sixty to eighty residences of varying degrees of ambition and compliance were sprinkled among the almost seven square miles of remote high-desert woodlands.
Those opting to ignore code requirements, playing it by ear in the mad scramble, were intent on getting a toehold established while the getting was good. It was always much harder trying to tell someone they couldn't be there once they'd already built a shelter, fenced off their property, posted No Trespassing signs and moved in.
It was territoriality writ large.
With so many hypnotized by the land, eclipsing any more practical concerns, a strange wonderland at increasing variance with mundane realities emerged...despite the most dedicated efforts of the code-compliant residents going berserk in their frantic efforts to reverse the intolerable trend.
It's unknown if some of the heavily invested first wave ever gave thought to trying to get the CC&Rs revised by a law firm. Conceivably this might've enabled an orderly growth into a standard community, one in which things were spelled out so each would-be resident fully knew the score. Before doing anything more than visit, one would realize they had to bring in an approved well (or share one with up to three adjacent residents); pay to have power lines extended if need be; and install an approved septic system -- all before becoming eligible to even apply for a building permit -- and then conform to exhaustive health and building code requirements. This was the accepted reality of places like nearby Lake Shastina (and, of course, most any city). Not so the Vista. The procedure would've assured the place established a solid footing and thus remained a 'respectable', law-abiding community that might've in time gained at least the grudging respect of the surrounding community.
A moot point, though. With 98% of the property owners absentee and living all over the nation, many nursing serious buyer remorse, actual Vista residents would've realized they'd never even begin to muster the needed two-thirds vote to tackle such a monumental and costly legal re-structuring. And heck, they were retirees anyhow; their days of heavy lifting and worldly concerns were done once their living structures were a done deal.
A more cynical view might've held that the founders, while realizing constructing such full-on homes amid a sea of raw vacation parcels was bound to create certain thorny problems down the road, just didn't care. They had theirs for whatever remained of their time on earth; let the chips fall where they may. They'd earned it, by golly, after a lifetime of hard work and then conforming to every last nit-picky, pricey legal residency requirement and, hey, it was the developer himself who'd suggested it in the first place. Not unreasonably, they now relied on enforcement of county ordinances to keep things copacetic. Their attitude was, "Too bad if you can't afford to live here and build to code like we did, but the law's the law." Then later, while still loaded for bear, even while realizing the system was spectacularly failing them, "And if we can't get you out, we'll at least be damn sure to make your lives here a living hell, like you've done to us."
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 at the time advanced their notion of how the place should be. They tried convincing others it was the best way or only way to go. The situation was maybe not unlike excited kids building sandcastles on the seashore...until high tide rushed in and erased even their most 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, then, with a flick of the wrist, even the most elaborate designs being shaken away, returning the screen to a blank slate.
While homebuilding efforts ostensibly fell within the bounds of county, state and federal authority -- which ordinances and codes the development and its eventual co-owners were legally obliged to conform to as a condition for the place getting greenlit -- these were never easy to enforce by the sparsely populated county's undermanned staff tasked with oversight. A tiny dwelling amid the sprawling, 66-mile labyrinth of private unpaved roads, out in the middle of nowhere, was not easy to track...or be aware of even existing, short of pouring over satellite photos (which in time became an accepted method for the county to tax lot improvements). Unless, as it happened, livid code-compliant residents burned up the phone lines, reporting every last noncompliance infraction and demanding swift response.
It was a tall order. With the heady sense of freedom living in such secluded back-country enclave lent newly rusticating dwellers, compliant and outlaw alike -- often no one living within a quarter mile or more -- something of a pronounced libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit emerged. Especially among the more free-spirited, minimalist lifestyle baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of earlier waves, felt irresistibly pulled to the mountain. They 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 had the sorry misfortune to ever get mixed up in.
Parcels were a dime a dozen. Eager buyers didn't stop to 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 them. They offered affordable living, the way it should be.
Doing one's thing
The free-wheeling spirit of some might’ve been fine,had the place from the start built a solid foundation of infrastructure support and appropriate CC&Rs. But it didn't. Cheap land really could create cheap intentions. The place's recreational use had run its course and the disparate crowd of instant homesteaders now pouring in were clearly set on going their own way and wanted to be left alone. Certainly few, if any, bought into the ephemeral retirement community's rigid mindset of how they thought things should be. During the radical late '60s to early '70s -- as different ages, headspaces, lifestyles, incomes, awareness levels, land-use intents and respect for the rule of law were all thrown together into the giant cookie-cutter wilderness of a primitive subdivision -- it often seemed the only common ground ever cultivated was everyone agreeing to disagree.
It's fairly safe to say that it was the unwillingness of so many to build to code that, more than anything, became the deal breaker, preventing the place from ever segueing into any sort of recognized, standard community. The ensuing rebellion from the perceived-as-oppressive codes tore to shreds the place's threadbare social fabric and community sense, sparking a long pitched battle between the dutifully compliant and doggedly rebellious. The former viewed the latter as illegal residents deserving the bums' rush; the latter viewed the former as uptight power trippers with too much money and a serious need to chill.
But looking at things from a wider perspective, all factors combined to make for a place so festering with irreconcilable differences both within and without that it seemed it never had a ghost of a chance to successfully segue to campland to 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...the laundry list of limiting factors seemed to guarantee that whatever elusive hopes civic minded residents and property holders might've held over time to turn the place around were always doomed six ways to Sunday from the start.
The board: hardball with a vengeance
Reflecting, sometimes magnifying, the place's many woes was the owner association's member-elected board of directors. Formed to fulfill the ongoing needs of the nonprofit public-benefit corporation -- mostly road maintenance -- it was required by the state to meet monthly. Composed six volunteer elected members, each served staggered two-year terms. Since all members had to live in approved structures to be eligible, the board naturally led the charge in declaring war on noncompliance to try saving the fledgling backwoods community from disaster.
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, their outrage was magnified for circumstances having touched the money nerve. They knew they'd lose out on getting any decent return after all their hard work and expense in creating full-on legal residences in such the now chaotic, would-be community..
Infuriated board members, reporting the ongoing flurries of violations, were doggedly determined to bust anyone and everyone not in strict code compliance, creating a stony legacy of scorched-earth overreach and hardball action. Building a fence without a permit? Report the bugger. Thirty-two days camping out? get him thrown off. In the course of such efforts, they alienated everyone who hadn't made a similar investment to comply. Or even sometimes those who had bought compliant homes and soon enough had serious misgivings for having moved into such a disaster zone, a place where it seemed normal for everyone to constantly gnash their teeth and say, "What on earth were we thinking when we moved here? For decades the place experienced what was in effect practically a mini reign of terror. Various board members and their minions often went about with balls out ruthlessness, doing their damnedest to try stamping out the plague now infesting their one-time backwoods enclave of respectable, law-abiding folks.
Such intolerance obviously made the place more than a tad less desirable to live in. It doubtless scared off even your like-minded, would-be-code-compliant owner-builders from settling in after hearing war stories from spitting-mad residents or getting grimaces and rolled eyes from health and building department workers the second they mentioned the place's dread name.
While time ultimately proved the code conformity battle a lost cause, a whack-a-mole effort that did little in the long run to stem the rising tide of scofflaw building and rebel attitudes, it was long a cause celebre -- "the law's the law" -- a hardline stance that swept up everyone into the fray or tried to; there were no innocent bystanders. Those who refused to take a stand -- "Sorry, we didn't move out here to get mixed up in local politics" -- were scorned as do-nothing enablers and part of the problem.
The enforcement system they'd depended on had failed them miserably. It allowed barbarians to storm the gates -- and stay. Shocked over their shattered dream of enjoying a tranquil retirement in the bosom of nature, they came to take a certain grim satisfaction exacting a pound of flesh from every transgressor they discovered, threatening dire consequences if they didn't toe the (fast-fading) line. Even when they knew such threats were becoming mostly empty ones, they must've felt expressing such open hostility might at least make some feel so unwelcome they'd start packing just to get away from angry, clearly bonkers neighbors.
Indeed, a few of your more unwitting transgressors, having no stomach for such ugly confrontations, promptly gave up and moved on, disillusioned and devastated. Some, who knew they'd probably been courting trouble, 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, daring them to do their damnedest. They'd fence off their places and post their own gnarly signs. One of the more chilling: underneath a cross-hairs symbol, the words "Warning. You're now within range." Others with perhaps too much time on their hands actually 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 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 all county, state, and federal codes, laws and ordinances. A tall order. Technically they could be held liable for neglecting proper enforcement efforts: board members could be sued.
As if to show there could be no doubt they weren't shirking their duties, board members reported each and every infraction the ongoing searches uncovered.
Short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, the place was fully at the mercy of county authorities to keep things on track. Once that boat had sailed, it was on them to try making 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 return the realm to 100% code compliance. What earthly good were laws, if not enforced?
Failing that increasingly impossible dream, at least it'd all be on them. (And then maybe they'd get sued.)
While each land buyer signed an agreement to abide by all laws, regulations and ordinances on purchasing of their parcel, it was naturally buried in a boilerplate sea of legaleeze fine print. As mentioned, beyond the more flagrant law breakers of latter times were those who, in the rush to pursue elusive dreams of tranquil country living, remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that they'd ever agreed to any such thing. They were shocked then, when told, often with fire-breathing intensity, how you couldn't do this or this, and don't even think of doing that. People started to feel foolish and misguided for settling in what had at first seemed such a delightful, charming, affordable place, but for some strange reason was giving fresh meaning to the expression, 'going off the deep end.'
It radicalized one against the local powers that be in a heartbeat.
The more cash-strapped, instant-sanctuary sort of newcomers knew only that they'd snagged an affordable piece of rural California and they were psyched to do their own thing on it, be left alone, come hell or high water. Maybe over time they'd try for a well; maybe not. They'd connect with kindred souls who 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, its 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 on their lonesome -- the hidden costs could be steep indeed. One found themselves living with a potluck assortment of strangers concentrated together in the middle of nowhere and mandated by law to cooperate, yet isolated from the high-density town and city lifestyle that made the same plethora of rules and regulations feel normal. Out in the boonies, it felt intolerably oppressive.
It was that same crowded, super-regulated urban reality so many wanted to get away from that had led them here in the first place.
Sharing the fantasy
The fact that people wanted their own land -- a place where they could live closer to nature and be a more respectable distance from others -- made it difficult 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 little more than a cruel illusion.
Steve Doktor, a late neighbor of the writer, whose 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 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 could result in a chaotic, wild-frontier climate that ruined it for everyone.
The Vista's laundry list of neighborhood grievances often appeared 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 wind blow one's property detritus to the four corners with zero concern over degrading the environment... Between all of these there was always something or other to raise one's hackles.
In sheer exasperation, residents kept complaining to the largely powerless board, but mostly to no avail. And to county authorities, who in turn were often so caught up in the swamp of slow bureaucratic procedure and reflecting an older populace's set rural ways that they themselves might also feel powerless -- and/or disinclined -- to work to try resolving the place's problems...or, among the more benumbed and burned out on elected public service, be practiced in the fine art of the two-step avoidance dance in response to constituents' wails of "Can't you do something?!" It seemed the buck never stopped anywhere, instead circling endlessly: "Well, unfortunately there's not a lot we can do"; "Sorry, but it's not my problem"; "You see, it's complicated"; "You might give Neighborhood Watch another go"; "You could try suing"...
Beyond the element in local government hostile or indifferent to the Vista's plight, possibly it wasn't so much supervisors and code enforcers not caring per se as it was the county's rural population embracing such a relaxed, stand-alone country lifestyle. Some in government beyond law enforcement simply seemed to lack the disposition and inclination that one cultivated living in more stress-filled urban climates to grab the bull by the horns and confront thorny problems routinely faced by residents living out in the boonies that were so sorely eroding the charm of country living.
And, critically, they depended on the vast majority of residents to be 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
Subdivisions not organic settlements;
no community center
For anyone whose imagination could sometimes take a surreal bent, it might've seemed the state, in approving such rural subdivisions, which each county then had to deal with, was perhaps employing social scientists to conduct some sort of weird social lab experiment. Like maybe they wanted to determine how long and how many strangers could live together in the middle of nowhere and deal with a load the various state-imposed mandates before it drove them all nuts. "Hey guys, I think we have a new contender here."
Most people moved to the country for peace and quiet...to enjoy fresh air and quietude, to live more simply and be left the hell alone. They didn't want to deal with any blasted bureaucratic mandates and so did their best to ignore them -- even if the downside was possibly encouraging an infusion of scofflaw elements attracted to the place as a promising hideaway if community awareness was pronounced enough. Some might say the very word 'subdivision' itself handicapped such developments from thriving; it sounding so...well, divisive.
Historically, when a settlement was founded by one or a party, unless a boom-town it often evolved slowly; there was an organic process at work. New residents gained a sense of belonging and measure of empowerment within a gradually growing community in which they each played a role. The Vista, in stark contrast, was founded by a realtor who lived over six hundred miles away. He had every last bit of land cookie-cutter-platted into 1,641 lots before the first buyer ever set foot on one. It was his creation, such as it was, designed and aspiring to be no more than simple recreational lands. So, when it later began informally seguing into an actual would-be community, residential growth was chaotic. It lacked -- forget infrastructure -- any crucial cohesive growth guidelines, self-determination, or abiding pride for being a 'home-grown' community.
Vista's iffy situation was made iffier still by various one-time residents over time leasing out their residences once the blush was off the rose for them in Vista living. Such renters had zero say in how the place was run as far as board eligibility, even if in time one might've felt a strong vested interest and wanted to get involved and help the place along more than simply joining the volunteer fire department or doing fundraisers for it.
The problem, again, was ridiculously exacerbated by the legion of disinterested absentee parcel owners who long constituted over 90% of the association's membership, dwarfing the number of actual residents. They held equal voting power on any proposal. To many of the purely speculative, it was nothing but a gone-sour investment they'd gladly pull the plug on and sell the second they got a half-way decent offer. In the meantime they'd scream over every cent of annual due increase right along with the many residents, who themselves also became mostly indifferent to the outlandish notion of ever lifting a finger (beyond the middle one) to ever help along the wilderness condo that had so obviously gone wacky beyond any possible redemption.
The professional management, in time hired by the volunteer board, was relied on to try to take care of things that mattered, especially legal and accounting concerns. But by then things had been going so wrong so long, many felt there was nothing much anyone could do other than nurse along the wobbly operation as is and hope for the best. Cynics included long-established parties 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 an actual functional community. They'd reject as naive, if well-meant, the pipe dreams of those who wanted to try pulling the place together.
Cynicism ran so deep, 'hope' was a four-letter word.
In time, more and more owners realized the Vista was taking the meaning of 'dysfunctional' to entirely new levels.
A prime example of how endemic the lack of any civic-minded spirit could be: One day in the 1990's, dozens of unwanted-orange, plastic bagged phone books had been dropped off below the mailbox complex -- or pushed off the box top to the ground by an irate resident -- at the busy Juniper Drive entrance. While it created an eyesore for everyone driving by, for over a month no one bothered to deal with it. This disbelieving writer (who didn't live in that part) held off, waywardly fascinated by such monumental indifference. (Finally I gathered them up and recycled them.) No doubt many grumbled to themselves that someone should clean those up, but of course never thinking to be that someone. They perhaps got a perverse rush raking the board over the coals for being so discombobulated it couldn't deal with even 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 really starting to grow. Even though it would’ve only involved a modest extra assessment for two years to fund, its cost being spread out among so 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 their blinders on. They chorused their favorite refrain: "Not One Cent More!"
As mentioned elsewhere, many embraced the persistent, fond illusion that once they'd bought the land, except for annual property taxes -- some 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 in 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 time. But such sentiments faced the constant headwinds of hopelessness born of the long-entrenched indifference of the majority. They had no doubt entertained wistful notions of moving here someday once it somehow, finally, miraculously got itself together and redeemed itself -- or perhaps even as-is and hoping for the best. And a few others still enjoyed periodic camping retreats on the more secluded retreat properties located far from busy arteries and established homes clustered along the few power lines, both often relatively close to the blacktop.
But it seemed the overwhelming majority -- jaded residents and disillusioned absentee owners alike -- grew apathetic to the notion of the place ever being anything but irretrievably out of kilter. That is, if it meant one more penny being pried from their wallet or purse. There was clearly no hope for such a basket case.
Some thought a portion of their annual assessment could surely go towards funding whatever civic improvements the more community-minded thought might help the place along. But the budget was almost always stretched to the breaking point over the high cost of maintaining 66 miles of fragile cinder roads. Plus, the board was repossessing parcels that couldn't be resold readily and so their annual county property taxes 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 a professional association manager. Things had gotten too complicated and time-consuming for volunteer board members alone. Most were too unversed in legal matters to grasp the intricate procedures of running the development according to Hoyle once the state legislature in 1985 enacted the flurry of new regulations for subdivisions known as the Davis Stirling Act.
But it would add insult to injury when, over time, salaried managers (we've had two) -- whom residents might assume would naturally work for the good of the place, helping preserve the Vista's relaxed livability and keeping residents' best interests at heart -- themselves speculated on lots. Or worse, actually brokered lot sales by serving as a realty agent on the side, eventually to parties intent on turning aforesaid tranquil lifestyle upside down and inside out to pursue illicit activities.
And while some, maybe even most, board presidents kept the well-being of the residency in mind, balanced with the valid concerns of vast-majority absentee parcel holders, one (who shall remain nameless), was part of a realty effort aggressively working to move parcels for the commission fees. She had long held that the right of a property owner to do with their lot whatever they wanted trumped any consideration for the well-being of the community as a whole. With such a mindset, resident owners might feel like little more than expendable pawns on a realtor's chessboard.
Though the development was technically a nonprofit public benefit corporation, there could be such a callous, for-profit, make-money-anyway-you-can-off-the-lame-ass-parcels hustle by self-interested parties, it beggared belief.
No there there
Many residents, having low expectations going in, accepted the fact there wasn't any more there there. Nothing beyond the trees and sage and simple roads and signs. Maybe even relieved, as it suited some just fine. Various parties used the place as a temporary perch, planning to move 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, well-meaning board members was soon enough swallowed by the prevailing civic indifference.
Many people the wayward realm attracted seemed far from your conventional sort (if there is 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 dutifully conformed to code requirements, or bought places that had, ostensibly had the peace of mind with which to enjoy them for being dutifully law abiding. But even those who hadn't and were hunkering down, hopefully under radar, seemed to feel they had the same inviolable right to enjoy their parcels any way they chose and not get hassled -- possession, after all, being nine-tenths of the law -- even while ignoring any laws and ordinances that didn't strike their fancy and seemed unlikely to ever be effectively enforced anyhow.
Handy place to perch
The Vista, an arrested recreational subdivision that spectacularly failed to segue into any stripe of a 'normal' community, largely remaining an embarrassment of empty lots, struck all kinds of burnouts 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 could more than likely get away with not conforming to code or suffer singed feathers at worst. Both paid the mandatory annual dues (usually) and as an idle pastime enjoyed demonizing the volunteer board as the source of all ills. With a shortsightedness that living in the place seemed to cultivate, it was THE fly in the ointment preventing any more carefree country living.
The most cynical felt the board setup was bogus. Probably illegal. Corrupt as hell, anyhow. "Someone oughta sue", "Why I ever moved here...", "This place would be just fine if it weren't for...", "They can't do that, can they?", ad infinitum. Unfounded, idle rumors of board members dipping into the treasury were rife.
Though such gnarly energies weren't always evident, it could often feel that way. But there were in fact respites, pleasant lulls when the dread fire-breathing beast of contention seemed to slumber. During such times -- especially during magical spring weather -- a peaceful, laid-back spirit could prevail over a land that seemed blessed with an innate tranquility. Grateful denizens relished their solitude amid such sunshiny, largely unspoiled nature, the polarized energies becoming so checkmated that a tenuous live-and-let-live attitude almost seemed to prevail. Residents could get so used to the place being maladjusted that at such times one might feel a sense of rich peace, despite all.
Such a feeling never lasted long.
Perennial joker in the deck
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, those who'd met county legal residency requirements and were duly vested in forever trying to maintain law and order -- sometimes succeeding, sometimes coming off like Barney Fife.
Alas, this joker, like a rude Jack-in-the-box, kept popping up to crimp the lives of non-complying dwellers during the intolerable years, which roughly spanned between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s. While domains tucked furthest out on the endless back roads often had so few inhabitant, 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 could 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 in hopeless tatters, and, consequently, minds unhinged and drunk on the limited powers being a board member bestowed, could run amok like so many little T-Rexes. They tried wielding a ruthless authority over the domain with barred teeth and razor claws, intent on terrorizing any hapless inhabitant with the gall to try living amid their enclave without having first earned the right.
Fast forward and the latest board members, though still hostile to the rampant non-compliance going on in their midst, seemed to become more or less resigned to having to suffer a seemingly unsolvable situation. Board meeting members and attendees, many mindful of the Shangri-la of yore long lost to oblivion, could sink into a why-bother, depressed mindset during operations. But, oddly enough, even with its once iron authority now seriously rusting away, compliant residents often still felt you couldn't do diddly-squat without first getting the board's approval and then grow old waiting for it. ("Matter tabled til next month, yawn; motion for adjournment?") The same if one wanted to start a new volunteer service to help the place out.
At a meeting held in then-president Bonnie Jolly's living room, the writer had volunteered to become an unpaid custodian for the subdivision to deal with the epidemic of road litter despoiling the roadsides. Though they thought it a good idea and voted me into the new position, it was a strange experience. It was like they were sleepwalking. They didn't bother to address any details of the post like supplying trash bags or reimbursement for gas or dump fees. Nothing. I'd 'quit' my post before I started, knowing I needn't say anything to anyone; their hearts simply weren't in it. Burned out volunteering to be on the board and used to receiving only grief for their service and easily getting depressed over the sorry state of affairs, they wanted only to cover routine, like road maintenance, 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 often 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 could feel like we were a foundering ship with barely the will left to keep bailing just enough water to prevent going clear under.
Jumping back to the earlier, intolerant years... Despite a seemingly gone-bonkers board throwing its weight around on constant red alert, remote circumstances had still somehow lent a tenuous assurance one could do (or should be able to do) whatever they wanted on their land. No uptight board lacking credibility and legal fining power and often not getting enforcement support from the county could stop them.
Private-property rights were sacrosanct, after all. With more scofflaw dwellers blocking from mind the reality of being part of the external world's rules and regulations, the mundane reality of requiring an elected board of directors to take care of business just didn't register as real. It was too invasive, too arbitrary, too self-defeating to the very reason so many people moved here.
At the risk of overstating the point, the illusion of anything goes manifested in profound measure due to the vast majority of raw-parcel owners living far away and rarely, if ever, visiting their properties. To actual dwellers, they held no more than an easily tuned out phantom presence. Inhabitants came to view the thousand-some vacant, undeveloped, seemingly unsellable parcels almost as some sort of permanent common park lands. Dwellers were sovereign over their own inviolate mini fiefdom of two to three acres plus oftentimes a luxuriant buffer zone of dozens of empty parcels that could equal the domains of the land-rich.
On the subtle, though, some residents -- beyond the board members in contact with them -- must've vaguely sensed the absent owners' displeasure over how dysfunctional the place had become. One that allowed firewood-selling tree poachers to raid absentees' unprotected lots at will, sometimes lots even harboring actual squatters. Though perhaps having no one to blame but themselves for being sucker enough to buy into such a problematic place, it was easier to blame the residency and its powerless board, who appeared to not care diddlysquat about the outrageous goings on.
Whether or not one sensed this yet one more pernicious force thrown into the mix, on one level such absentees' combined ire over the state of affairs definitely added to the overload of contentious forces working their mischief. Though on the subtle plane, it could gnaw at a resident's peace of mind no less than the in-your-face, code compliant dwellers waging war on the non-compliant and the in-your-face 'outlaw' dwellers responding in kind. The vast absentee ownership that could never get interested enough in the dire straits the place found itself in to help it along was a serious contender for being the straw that would break the camel's back.
Early pot grows and vigilante episodes
inside an intractable tract
In the early 2000s, one of the few residents furtively growing illicit cannabis for the recreational black market before pot laws were further decriminalized, found himself with new neighbors on Starling Road. They were keen on doing the exact same thing. Wanting to avoid increasing the likelihood of bringing 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 supplying some 16 people, and technically still be in compliance with state law before triggering any possible federal interest and penalties.
Reportedly, after 2016 this 99-plant figure became 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 but licensed commercial grows would, of course, be gleefully ignored by the flood of later unsanctioned commercial growers -- and, eventually, even 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 get back in the saddle the next day.
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 people would have the voting option to approve legal, tightly regulated commercial grows and sale dispensaries or not; the towns of Weed (naturally) and Mt. Shasta would. Any commercial grows elsewhere were verboten.
The Vista's few early state-legal grows would no doubt set the stage for later developments, proving yet again how the remote place was forever an irresistible draw to all sorts, for all sorts of reasons.
Between a critical handful of your more anarchistic-leaning residents ignoring any and all rules and regulations interfering with doing pretty much whatever they wanted; a county seemingly throwing up its hands and abandoning the place as a lost cause, actually deleting its residency-code enforcer post for years; and the radicalized times in general -- between these, in due course respect for the rule of law in the Vista got on mighty shaky ground.
More examples: as mentioned, some less than civic-minded entrepreneurial residents, as well as invading outsiders, routinely poached trees from vacant lots to sell as firewood, cutting down scores of standing snags, sometimes even felling living trees, including some of the few mature pines that 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 to close off the major through road running by him outright with a sign-posted gate -- despite it being ages too late to legally remedy the error. A scofflaw neighbor who regularly used the road didn't think twice when encountering the sudden barrier: he backed up his bad-boy truck, gunned the engine, and smashed his way through. Problem solved.
Yet another neighbor on McClarty Road, furious over certain parties routinely roaring by his place and raising clouds of dust just to tick him off, one evening furtively dug a slanted trench across the road. That night they sped by as usual, promptly lost control and ran into a tree. Walking back stunned and furious to confront him, he shot at them, missing, and was later arrested. On another occasion, a resident on Cardinal Road saw red once learning his outlaw neighbor tried hitting on his young teen daughter. Along with a wrecking crew he rounded up, he descended on the culprit's land late at night while he was known to be on vacation in county lockup. They proceeded to vandalize and loot the place to a fare-thee-well. And when a Black man briefly occupied a vacant stone cottage (again,on McLarty) and was discovered by the absentee owner late at night, the latter held a shotgun on him for 40 minutes until a sheriff deputy finally arrived.
Obviously the place's auspicious start during simpler times, its relatively homogeneous, convention-minded, law-abiding dwellers sharing 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, through its natural force field, vortex energy, or whatever one felt it emanated, it was thought to stimulate one's upper chakras. While initially maybe revving up one's wildly visionary imagination, in time it could 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 wanted on the land (within the prevailing times' law-abiding limits, of course), the mountain's influence could work to make one feel their parcel was a veritable Fortress of Solitude.
Long after the honeymoon camping years had faded away and an increasingly casual, quasi homesteading took off in earnest, people in the 1990s for a while would actually campaign to get voted onto the board. While some no doubt hoped to try mellowing the place -- maybe willing to turn a blind eye to unenforceable county ordinances so long as residents were otherwise peaceable, hoping to make the best of a bad situation -- others, still grinding the code enforcement ax, were bound and determined to renew the by then mostly ineffectual, impotent hardline stance on unsanctioned dwellings, their residents, and pretty much anyone who even looked at them cross-eyed.
This relatively community-active period passed soon enough. Fast-forward a decade and the place became so overwhelmed with non-compliant, scofflaw residents that it again entered a period of pronounced civic indifference. The generally scofflaw air, perhaps in part reflecting the times' high national crime rate, was punctuated by helpless wails from the dutifully code compliant: “What’s happening to this place?”
Lost in a fog, we'd become like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, aimlessly adrift. "Water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink."
Rambunctious Whitney Creek
This, even as, in supreme irony, residents on the water-parched land periodically had to scramble to keep snow melt water 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 parcels, the Association long ago finally sued the Forest Service for having allowed the course of the creek -- actually more a snow melt wash -- to be diverted towards the new subdivision by removing a dam built above state highway 97 by people in the area that later became Lake Shastina and who no longer had need of it -- or wanted to deal with it themselves -- and 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 Buckhorn 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 were for a long while kept diverted out of harm's way.*
* Not always, though. In August 2022, part of the Buckhorn Road berm was again breached after a prolonged, record 100 degree weather generated extraordinary amounts of snow and glacier melt, possibly built up in an ice dam and finally bursting, flooding land on both sides the of berm and prompting a Code Red evacuation alert.
Bored writer joins the board
In the early 2010s, after over 30 years feeling little fondness for the board -- at times being demonized by some of its members in return, short fuses being common all around -- the writer actually served on it for all of 18 months. At the time volunteering for the board had hit an all-time low. It was hard-pressed to fill out more than three of its five seats, three being the legal minimum needed to conduct essential business like approving road maintenance outlays.
They weren't too picky about who volunteered, just so long as one was a code-compliant resident in good standing. If not rallying, the place 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 somehow got roped into serving on it as secretary by then-president Pamela Simpson before I knew what was happening.
While it turned out the development's actually defaulting was never a serious threat, it had at least flirted with such an ignominious fate from time to time. It could feel like no one cared three hoots in hell what happened to the woebegone place. Certainly few appreciated or respected how various residents were volunteering time and energy to try to meet the state's mandate to do what needed to be done to keep things at least flirting with some minimum level of functionality. For all their troubles such volunteers were, as said, vilified as power-crazed busybodies.
With so many members -- resident and absentee alike -- routinely damning the board, or, at the least, being supremely indifferent to it, all but its more determined and thick-skinned members serving on it burned out, getting overwhelmed, jaded and/or embittered in record time. Those who hung in could become charred remnants of their former selves, sleepwalking through the monthly meetings but, like a dog with a bone, determined not to let go of the reigns, for fear no one could or would replace them and do as credible a job. Indeed, from time to time the board actually did attract volunteers who had some shameless private agenda in mind to use the place to their own selfish advantage, or who idly sought the dubious prestige being a member might bestow without having to do any real 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 as it were, ready for battle if, say, some outraged resident or visiting owner attended to vent his or her spleen. Or endure soul-crushing boredom. And one could sometimes be made to feel like cannon fodder if told by the manager to sign a stack of legal foreclosure papers on property owners who'd 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 firehouse backroom -- if hoping to accomplish anything one might conceivably be proud of. Spirits were often so subdued, we appeared to be in some clinical group depression. It was as if everyone felt the thankless grand futility of it all but plugged away anyhow out of a misplaced 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 optimistically hoped to somehow 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 the 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 far too late to make any difference. The boat had not only left the dock but sailed half way around the world by then. The die was cast. The dismal course was set. Barring some miracle, it was purely wishful thinking to think 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 the place's seeming bleak fate.
Though various mindful visitors over time could sense the land's healing qualities -- some overnighters reported having the best dreams of their lives -- cynics, not without some reason, came to dismiss the beleaguered realm out of hand: “No water, no trees, nothing but desert and rattlesnakes.” To them, it was just a cheap substandard rural bedroom community; hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks; maybe a few respectable, hardworking residents hoping to play out an elusive dream of idyllic country living and obviously building in the wrong place...
The way so many routinely slammed the place, one might've concluded it was born under a dark star, a wicked witch’s cauldron boiling over with gnarly contention, any effort to reverse its fate 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 birthday of TV's Scorpion Rosanne Barr, along with football's Collin Kaepernick and actor Charles Bronson. Some might say the resulting brooding, super-wound energies imprinted on the development at its moment of birth practically guaranteed the place would always be more than a tad on the intense side. (Lightening the mix, both Mars and Venus were in nature-loving Sagittarius, along with a compassionate, dreamy Pisces moon.)
Then there's cardology, the study of planetary influences forming a unique DNA signature for each day of the year and symbolized by a playing card (some days sharing the same card, but having 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 realities.
Somewhere along the way the once openly shared, carefree vacation land reached a critical tipping point and passed the point of no return. Scofflaw residents were determined to do their own thing while hundreds of landholders with buyer remorse had little or no interest in the place except to cash out. The scene got so sketchy that few to none were any longer interested in building to code. (Why even bother when the county had dropped its residential code enforcer position and a code-built place couldn't fetch enough in the realty market for being in such a squirrelly place?) All the daunting factors holding the place back got heaped together and were slowly converging to create the perfect storm.
The situation was already letting any so inclined have a field day pursuing whatever doubtful land uses they might dream up -- junk yards, dog kennels, meth labs -- for being off private dirt roads tucked far away from all but the prying eyes of maybe a few nosy neighbors. No matter such dubious uses upset the peace and quiet the compliant dropped anchor here for and had invested decades of effort establishing homesteads, or bought from those who had.
The wayward realm was clearly singing the old Cole Porter tune, "Anything Goes."
Without a more pro-active, harmonizing force, one with at the least some semblance of community concern and respect for the rule of law, a lawless spirit had gained an outsize influence. 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 even be bothered to read the writing on the wall.
As a consequence, the place was leaving the door wide open for potentially even greater calamity.
One didn't need the omniscience of 20-20 hindsight to realize that by the early teens two things were abundantly 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, nature-rich lifestyle by then taken for granted.
The Vista thru Time
Further reflections on
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Knowing where the Vista was coming from could go a long ways in understanding where it went. Had the place’s metaphorical foundation (as it were) gone full circle? First it was tents and trailers set on sand. Then it morphed to conventional homes built on rock. Then it went sideways to trailers and makeshift shelters, again set on sand.
Whatever happened, lack of water always 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 an inspiring Mt. Shasta view, noted: “No matter who we talked to we were warned away from Mt. Shasta Vista...we were told repeatedly that Mt. Shasta Vista was bad for wells.”
Wanting to remedy the chronic water shortage, in the early 2000s a few solution-minded residents had 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, almost always baking hot and bone dry in summer; as well as for being volcanic terrain, often making hitting water through lava strata touch and go and, even if successful, sometimes resulting in water that was undrinkable without treatment.
One time, an early owner couple drilling for water hit a lava tube. They felt a constant stream of cool 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 a successful 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. Scattered over the vastness of nearly seven square miles, it was still a mere sprinkling; the development worlds away from even beginning to get built out. Many dwellers still felt like land barons. Especially if on parcels far from the relative concentration of structures amid the few power lines often found closest to the county blacktop.
It seemed many owners were addicted to pavement driving and couldn't warm to the place's humble, honest country roads. They were adverse to their nice clean vehicle getting all dusty and ruining the latest car wash. So they were disinclined to want to regularly drive up to five miles over often narrow, winding cinder roads to reach properties in the further reaches. A half mile of unpaved back road was more than enough to have to endure, for Pete's sake. It seemed any desire for seclusion was balanced against the desire for easy in and out. With so many less desirable parcels scattered deep in the hinterlands, there was a grand buffer of over a thousand empty parcels, total, that lent such regions a profoundly tranquil and park-like ambiance for any willing to go the distance.
No matter how much pristine land one might enjoy, though, it seemed a foreboding undercurrent always lurked just below the surface. One that could jam one’s peace of mind and ability to any better experience the oft-heralded joys of country living. Between the regional community never accepting the place and the hellbent resolve of code-compliant residents to wage war on code ignorers, one often seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if one was compliant, an almost palpable tension could fill the air. On the subtle it was like living in a crowded tenement, angry landlord pounding on the door.
This was one of the grand ironies of living in the Vista. Either you detached and became philosophical about it all or you found yourself maybe 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 some more civic-minded residents. A committee got formed to try revising the outdated CC&Rs. Not overhaul them outright, but at least tinker around the edges, hoping to make them a bit more relevant. After much slow sledding, a glitch in a progress report sent out to everyone promptly sank the earnest efforts. The pamphlet cover’s title was supposed to read: “Proposed Changes to Mt. Shasta Vista Bylaws”. But the all-critical first word was left out, making the changes sound like a done deal.
This prompted a barely peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd to storm the next monthly board meeting. Residents who normally avoided such meetings like the plague came out of the woodwork. They thought the board was maybe trying to stage a coup or something.
The long and winding roads;
Whitney Creek revisited
While you had your own private parcel, the modest annual ‘road dues’ assessments were, as mentioned, deeply 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 more remote regions because their roads hadn’t been touched in ages. The most neglected stretches could develop deep dry pools of tire-grabbing, quicksand-like silt so bad, AAA tow trucks eventually refused to come out to rescue trapped vehicles after once having gotten their own rig stuck in turn and a monster tow truck was 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 flooded its banks. It once actually put most of Section 28 under up to nine inches of water, forcing an evacuation and making regional TV news. The worst of the many floods over time until a massive earthen berm was finally built, it washed away some area's roads so thoroughly that the board finally abandoned them outright 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. Finally, the Association -- decades after there'd become a crying need for them -- installed Dead End signs at the start of such roads.
Train wreck of a place
Vistan parcel holders by and large were a frugal lot: bought the land cheap, moved in cheap, wanted to keep things cheap. Many harbored pronounced stand-alone inclinations. It seemed futile to even try rallying community awareness and cooperation in such a bare-bones, often outright ornery social climate. The situation was, as writer keeps stressing, seriously compounded by a sea of absentee owners who 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 in what was sourly dismissed as a spectacularly failed development. Such a widespread disenchantment was guaranteed to arrest any errant inclination to try pulling the development out of its astonishingly 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 simply shorted out. It became a broken development that first-time visitors routinely dropped their jaws over. Such a failed, "left for dead", train wreck of a place set amid otherwise subtly charming backwoods struck many as surreal. Like a long abandoned film set for some low budget Western, maybe, left gathering mothballs in outdoor storage. Or as if the place had grown too big for its britches trying to rise above its lowly station and left to pay a steep price for its rank impertinence.
Those who had early on built code-approved homes -- almost everyone who first moved onto the land -- were pragmatic in assessing the situation. They realized it would take everyone following health and building regulations if the development were to remain and grow as a standard rural community.
But people had swooped on the cheap, again, 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." They knew 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 set things right again.
Failing that, the place was toast. At least to the convention-locked mindset.
Still a nice place to live, kinda sorta
Over time, the realm -- becoming a broad, hopelessly haphazard mix of approved living structures and unsanctioned, makeshift dwellings and derelict trailers 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, it was de facto recycled, its residency making like hermit crabs, moving in among the abandoned rec land lot shells. Many and sundry came to consider the development a nice place to live despite its glaring shortcomings. Sure, it was a failed subdivision, but hey, one could live with that. It was our failed subdivision.
Living in the Vista could be like wearing a comfy if disreputable-looking old pair of sneakers yet to develop any worrisome holes in the soles.
No such kind regard was felt by most of the some eighty percent of property holders constituting the absentee membership scattered over the nation. They were clearly not enjoying the land. Some, possibly hoping for a miraculous turnaround, had, as said, clung to their title deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and doubling down, shelling out each year for upkeep of roads they never drove on, lest their land be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time.
This churn rate of lot ownerships created extra billing time for the salaried manager processing the 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, undiscriminating and flip minded. They often didn't have to say a word; the remote dirt-cheap lots with fabulous views and deep seclusion sold themselves.
Meanwhile, the absentee parcel holders, like characters in Waiting for Godot, stood by waiting for values to rise so they could finally lose the clunkers at a decent profit, or the place improve itself to the point they might actually enjoy visiting -- maybe even build an approved shelter of some stripe.
ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views
Earliest campers in the newly formed, shared wonderland savored it like fine wine. In spring the realm delighted the senses with surprise splashes of lavender, purple, red, and yellow wildflowers. Rich lichen moss on aging and dead junipers seemed almost magical, dazzling the eye with its bright, near-phosphorescent green. After rains the pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was like nature's own perfume.
Abundant wildlife included deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, plentiful birds, ever-friendly and curious chipmunks, less friendly polecats, porcupines and, yes, rattlesnakes (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 returned home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to their shared wilderness hideaway and all the improvements they’d work on during rendezvous with friends new and old, all eager to grow the new private retreat for their enjoyment and benefit of every visiting property owner.
Seldom heard: a discouraging word
Earliest parcel vacationers gathered at night to enjoy campfire get-togethers. Coyotes 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 would later race over to snap the spectacular, almost surreal, lenticular clouds flying off it, or an impossibly giant one hovering over it like a mothership.
Judging by the writings in the association's twice-annual Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared euphoric waves of feelgoodness that were sweeping the land during the rarefied purple-haze days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (along with gnarly uprisings, wars and protests, of course).
...and the saucers flew by-y-y all night
Even if one was a hard-line Nam war hawk and hostile to the emerging counterculture with its sometimes outlandish, convention-jarring, free-minded ways, spirits ran high...no doubt aided and abetted by their own mind-altering drug of choice, alcohol. But the group buzz might’ve been further heightened by something quite extraordinary: unknowingly copping a contact high from parties aboard the then-frequent UFOs seen darting about the mountain, making national headlines.
The embryonic community just might've gained some rarefied cosmic super-charge from curious advanced extra-terrestrial beings checking out the singing earthlings camped out on the mountain's sleepy side.
To any susceptible to the subtle charms of the land -- magnified for being under the mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise. One new parcel holders enthusiastically worked on to make nicer. The light-duty cinder roads were kept immaculately groomed by the membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers planted at highway entrances, the welcoming archway lifted up into place. Then, as said, group civic improvement efforts seemed to have peaked with establishing the de facto community well and extending power lines to parcels whose owners had 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 later happens on it. If accepting this as true... Prehistoric indigenous people had seasonally hunted game here but didn’t settle, probably over lack of water and not daring live so close to such a powerful, sacred mountain. Beyond them and the first isolated white settlers on the land -- like Eli Barnum by Sheep Rock in the 1850s and later hunters and livestock grazers -- it might be said that the first major indelible imprint on the land was made by none other than modern-day-pioneering Vistans during the mid to late 1960s.
If so, they had bestowed on the land an euphoric, industrious, conservative, somewhat topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature the land henceforward always resonated with even if buried below the surface by future events. (Another example: often wild, free-spirited San Francisco: reportedly in nice weather its first inhabitants loved nothing better than to roll about in the mud and 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 about it. In spots beyond earshot of highway wash, with no jets droning overhead or freight train rumbling in the distance, the land held such a deep quietude one might've sensed they could hear the earth breathing. Repeat visitors and residents alike, once adjusting to the at first seemingly eerie silence, came to embrace it like a long-lost lover. (Explorers of Pluto Caves, just beyond one of the Vista's border, might've experienced something of this etheric quality.)
But the dreamy atmosphere came with a downside. Tenuous new residents, wowed by the woodland parcels bought for a song, could get so caught up spinning fantasies, they never integrated being here with doing what was needed to be done to get things legally squared away with the powers that be, thus allowing their brainstorms to actually manifest. Instead, they remained just so many pipe dreams which the region's rarefied energies so easily fostered.
Over time, countless one-time owners came and went, happy bubbles burst after a few months or years of either ignoring or being ignorant of the mundane realities created and enforced by the county and state governments, rules legally obligating any would-be resident to first establish infrastructure like a well and power and then build according to an accepted standard of living...until, out of the blue, a reality check shocked awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.
It was phenomenal. The serene, enchanting land, for sale cheap, kept on grabbing newbies, getting them wildly psyched over the parcels' endless possibilities. Then -- like a 'Star Trek' TV episode in which the landing team finds a planet that at first appears a strange, wondrous paradise -- they inevitably discover its fatal, deal-breaking flaw.
A fine place by George:
further speculations on why things went so far south
Developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than the earlycomers, 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 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 was far from being just some disinterested land developer who took the money and ran.
He was central in the place's beginnings on so many levels that other property owners undoubtedly got used to the it being in his capable hands. To some degree, they maybe became something akin to passive land tenants, dependent on him to do whatever needed to be done. "Let George do it." He was in essence the place's benevolent overlord, doing all the heavy lifting and so sparing everyone else the bother. In turn, he was acknowledged as the main man by his willing and grateful subjects. So long as he stayed in the picture, few probably ever felt much motivated or empowered to take on any major efforts themselves to further organize and grow the place according to their own lights.
When at some point he faded from the picture for reasons uncertain, new owner residents, their 'father' gone, were forced to scramble post haste. Left to their own devices, they were faced with a steep learning curve to assume 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 that the association's good ship Vista began to seriously founder. They'd been abandoned by their captain and were left struggling to regain bearings and steer a course under their own steam while at the same bailing like crazy just to stay afloat.
Over time the development might've now and then appeared to have gotten back on track (as much as any track existed) under the guidance of more capable, on-the-ball, more altruistic-minded board members. They'd scramble to get things tenuously up to speed once tackling the remedial catch-up work. Then it'd derail 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, so by the time new volunteers got a tenuous handle on things they were often already burned out, and the learning process would begin all over again with other newbies from an ever-shrinking pool of willing property owners in good standing.
One might wonder if perhaps originally Collins did once have loftier ambitions for the place and had considered launching an actual, infrastructure-supported residential development. Or if he'd only decided to try playing catch up, launching a power and light fund, once seeing how next door Lake Shastina was suddenly going full-tilt residential, as were other Mt. Shasta area rural developments as well, all taking off about the same time. Perhaps at first he thought it was too far from town, amid a sparsely populated farming community, water too scarce to attract enough people to want to actually live there -- but then 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 strong 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 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 entire place. (Covered in next part.)
While it was always easy to come and go, it could be hard to stay. Various owners wanting to move onto the land realized they had to forge ahead on their own steam, each supply their own water, power and septic at great personal expense, and so maybe started telling him where to get off. He'd perhaps become little more than a tiresome cheerleader by then. Feelings hurt after all he'd done to birth and nurture the place along, he might've at last said the hell with it 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 that the county wasn't equipped to keep a handle on building compliance despite the most dedicated efforts of code-legal residents to 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 its unfortunate, irreversible decline.
In any event, something seemed to happen between Collins and his one-time fellow vacationing lot owners, then emerging as independent homesteaders, that would turn the wine into vinegar. Something -- or series of somethings -- changed the tenor of the ephemeral Shangri-la from a happy dream to something a bit less appealing.
Lookin' for a sign amid a maze of roads
Vista’s raw parcels on a per-acre basis were some ten times cheaper than those of next door's exurb of Lake Shastina, started a couple years later in 1968. The Vista first attracted an equally solvent if more rough-and-ready vacationing camper crowd than the second-home buyer group Lake Shastina's developers initially wooed with its full-on infrastructure and relative closeness to town amenities.
Road signs were critical inside Vista's endless 66 mile maze. Even longtime residents like the writer could get lost if hazarding off one's accustomed route. One night driving about, I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea where I was. On getting to an intersection and spotting a stenciled 4X4 wooden road sign post, I climbed out and shone my flashlight on it, expecting to regain my bearings with the help of my trusty road map. But the painted lettering had faded to illegibility, done in by the elements, and I was still lost in a place I'd called home for decades.
Second generation signs were equally small, four-foot tall vertical metal affairs that soon rusted out. Delinquents would steal them, 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 give up and switch focus to try finding their way out of the bewildering place.
Place haunted by sheer number
of phantom parcel owners
As emphasized, many lot holders never set foot on their properties. They'd snapped them up in pure speculation -- and maybe the excitement of gaining bragging rights of owning a piece of the golden state -- hoping either eventual improvements like central piped water and extended power lines would finally skyrocket parcel values, or that, at the very least they'd have something of enduring 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 from all over the nation. If you include two more family members per parcel getting involved, this number increased to 15,000 people, each holding some interest in the place and personal stake in its development...or lack thereof.
That's a lot of absentee ownership. One guaranteed to keep the place more than 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 soon became all but obsolete -- than a place with a tiny minority of owner residents with the 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" readily 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 dead inertia. Such forces -- magnified by the board, the only one organized group the place had other than a volunteer fire department -- would shatter one's dreams and create a sense of futility over the prospect of ever trying to fix anything. The place was like a disastrous big budget movie misfire where everything goes wrong after a promising start, creative vision never realized.
Initially-involved newcomers either gave up in shocked disillusionment or quickly dialed back their 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, beyond the writer, much less celebrated -- absentee parcel owners still outnumbered residents about seven to one. For residents to get involved in such a crazy-quilt of far-flung owners, many or most all but indifferent to the realities and needs of the few actually calling the place home -- many of them just passing through slowly at that -- clearly held dim prospects.
Setting the standard
That first wave of firstcomers, maybe seven or so couples, were, again, recent retirees flush with cash from selling city homes and psyched at the prospect of becoming something of modern day pioneers by establishing their own close-knit, nature-rich retirement community.*
*Among them were 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 gladly emulate.
But its success as a growing bonafide 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 conforming to 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, end of story.
Seeing how the firstcomers, perhaps understandably, went bonkers as various parcel owners overextended their camp visits to become permanent invasive occupational forces, the philosophical might've thought it all a bit odd: A place that started out championing primitive rec properties now began busting the chops of anyone camping on them 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 that -- if not 'their kind' -- they regarded them like so many wanted criminals, keeping track of permissible days left before throwing them under the bus in righteous fury by reporting them...it was all a situation rich in 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 that it ended up supporting neither.
The Vista Through Time
Continuing informal history, tales and reflections on
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Power to the people (some, anyhow)
In the early seventies, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund 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 conventional backwoods community, or even just to accommodate power-thirsty trailer devices, one needed to supply that ubiquitous energy elixir that so much of humanity was hooked on.
The initial goal had been simply to extend a few lines. But apparently so many got enthused over developer Collin's idea of building retirement homes here, gaining momentum, that ambitions made a quantum leap. Property owners now envisioned electrifying the whole dang place. A volunteer assessment was levied, and, while contribution to the fund was optional, the power company on the strength of developer Collins’s assurances he’d work to get everyone on board made a tentative commitment to extend power lines to every single lot in the entire place.
It was reaching another turning point: If everyone went along, it might be well on its way to blossoming into an actual full-on residential community. It would've met one of the three crucial infrastructure needs, an adequate water supply and hygienic waste disposal means for each lot still to be reckoned with individually by any individual lot holder wanting to go further.
The backwoods realm appeared maybe on the verge of reinventing itself, if in a scramble to catch up, patchwork fashion.
But nothing comes easy. While three in four -- some 1,200 parcel holders -- indeed got on board with the plan and ponied up, either fired with enthusiasm or thinking it would increase the parcels' values and saleability, 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 and chip in.
To no avail.
Some who actually visited their parcels no doubt had decided they were fine enjoying the primitive parcels the way they were, thank you. They relished roughing it and felt unsightly power lines and poles would despoil the scenery and erode the place's relatively pristine charm. They'd bought primitive land cheap for simple rustic vacation use, period. 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 would only defeat the purpose.
But it was probable that most of those refusing to chip in were the countless largely disinterested investors and speculators. They no doubt were having second thoughts on the possible boondoggle they'd 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 maybe going bust, maybe being something of a scheme if they were asked to put more money in. They'd soured on the place, and things were getting confusing with people actually settling down on the supposed vacation parcels, ambitiously trying to turn the place into a whole new critter likely requiring more assessments in the future.
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 be enough to 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 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 vacation cabin for seasonal use, and so property values would stall. Since the place was no longer dedicated for recreational parcels either, it was desirable to neither interest and would likely prove disastrous to ever moving 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 few dozen soon-to-be owner-builders -- jazzed at the idea of living in such natural seclusion -- went for it, the fund was exhausted. The power company, obviously having anticipated a flood of new, power-guzzling customers, soon 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 optimistic power company had planted and wired up towering street lamps at all five highway A-12 entrances. But the beacons, which gave off an eerie, cold, bluish glow, kept getting shot out by rowdy locals. No doubt their tribe was still fulminating over the subdivision ever getting green-lit; they must've taken a keen delight in being able to sabotage the place without even leaving the blacktop. After a few persistent rounds of target practice and consequent repairs, the power company finally gave up and the road lamps were removed. The entrances were once again obscured in darkness after nightfall.
All told, maybe some ten to fifteen percent of the 1,641 parcels got connected to the power grid over time. Some owners who'd contributed to the fund -- likely 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 should cut their losses. Or kept the lots, still thinking to build, but were furious over such a sorry course of events: they'd effectively subsidized others to become legal residents while they were left out in the cold. When they were ready to build, they were told sorry, out of luck, and the power company quoted them a shocking five-figure estimate to extend the lines. This no doubt turned them apoplectic over a development whose ownership members had so abysmally failed to all get on the same page.
Add this teeth-gnashing to the place's growing contentious spirit and increasing climate of noteworthy discombobulation.
Place didn't catch the solar-electric wave
Later, the place would miss a sure bet not embracing solar electricity. What with its enviable banana-belt micro-climate and solar technology in time plummeting panel costs over ten-fold, it seemed the perfect way to provide the 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 only dreamed of spring. The first solar electric system was installed by a 1970s' resident, Brian Green, 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 power needs.)
*While the later owner of Brian Green's home would lose the place to the Lava Fire of 2021, one thing miraculously had survived unscathed: the latest bank of solar panels. Safely perched above on its metal stand in a clearing amid otherwise total devastation, it looked like nothing was amiss as far as it was concerned.
Writer in 1989 became one of two Vista residents to fully embrace solar. In my case, it was sunshine or bust -- no backup generator -- which even now powers this online article's periodic reworking. (For anyone curious, a HomePower story on my modest system was featured in issue #30 as an example of a small set-up, showing you didn't have to spend a fortune to create an off-grid system if content having just a few basic electrical amenities and then go with alternate power sources for others like heat, cooking and refrigeration.)
While many hit good water, often between 175 to 350 feet or so, the wells of others could be plagued with iron levels that dyed laundry pink or arsenic levels that made drinking the water a bit dicey.* And sometimes Shasta Vista’s underground water table proved FAR deeper -- 700 to 800 feet or more -- especially in higher elevation areas like Section 23.
*A retired couple on Gilman, a mile from writer, drilled a well with water having arsenic levels within then-acceptable health department limits, when 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 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 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 now illegal as hell. Plus, the water truck wasn't certified for delivering potable water. Department head Dr. Bayuk promptly capped the 26-residence club membership with iron fist. He told us at a specially called meeting held at then board president John Shelton's house on Gilman Road that he had discretionary powers 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 in light of so many members having sold their former homes and bought or built here on the strength of realtors’ assurance there was a community well so one needn’t bring in a well before building; 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 as they did.
He insisted all others drill an approved well before they could get a septic and building permit and, thus, give official blessing to live on their properties. Leastwise, not for more than 30 days a year without being made to feel one was overstaying their welcome by ever-vigilant 'neighbors' forever wound up trying to keep the non-invested rabble out. He hoped that the POWW memberships, nontransferable to any subsequent home buyers, would fade away over time as people got their 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, and inertia -- ridiculously strong in Vista's manana land -- reigned supreme. Some who were otherwise compliant, rather than spring for a well became resigned to hauling water as the price one paid for living here affordably. And the fully non-compliant got used to hunkering down, hopefully below radar of snoopy neighbors and the powers that be. People wanted to avoid spending a fortune on drilling efforts that might not even hit water, or good water, or enough water, plus the usually prohibitive expense of getting electric lines extended to power the well pumps.
So 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 like 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, many new homeowners simply assumed the water hauling rights were transferable.
Unfortunately, this lent the impression to prospective new residents that one didn't first get a well in to be eligible for a building permit being issued. 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 residences never put in a well, but they got building permits; why can't I? This isn't 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. Naturally no one wanted to volunteer for guard duty, and fencing off and padlocking access was maybe seen as either unfeasible, impractical. or more work than anyone felt enough civic duty to mess 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 maybe remain available to all. Amid all the confusion and contention, it somehow served as a substantial, visible reminder of the place's promising beginnings of 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.
A neighbor on Placone Road would make daily hot-summer drives for a teeming menagerie of thirsty livestock in his ancient Cadillac, backseat removed and crammed full, along with the trunk, with lidded five-gallon buckets and Jerry cans.
Some reportedly even copped showers there. Risking a quick shower at the well site, with 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 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 colony.
Finally, Vista board members, led by then-president George Gosting, were fed up and fearful of getting fined by the state -- or well-owning residents outraged how their annual dues were going to replace the pump and cover monthly power bills. They felt they were effectively subsidizing and enabling code noncompliance. So the board came up with a simple solution: 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 all the 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 clamped on the place. Of course, it was all standard procedure to gain legal residency anywhere in California. But our place had 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 only suggestions at that.
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 meeting code. 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 might've appeared they were somehow all in concert to churn the problematic, marginal properties for quick gain on one hand, then, on the other, keep a power hold over the place and its usability. They appeared 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 the lot was eventually 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 and just 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, then seemed to lack the teeth and political will to enforce residency requirements when brought back. The county had by then long considered the Vista a hopelessly intractable case, best ignored.
Such a situation 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 the sobering reminder over their doorways.
People with enough resources to maybe pay $30,000 or more to put in a well and perhaps half again as much to get power extended 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
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. 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. Theirs could be an over-refined gentility, with such pronounced, buttoned down, urbane, breezy SoCal sensibilities, that some might've thought the mindset surreally out of place at the top of more freewheeling northern California, even if in a 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 keen angst over seeing their place lose its incipient respectable, legitimate-community status once the flood of non-compliant started invading the realm, they went 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 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 no doubt had enough and started grinding their teeth for having to constantly deal with a major problem child with such a relatively slim tax-generating pedigree...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; 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 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, 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 their latest bloodhound efforts revealed.
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 woefully left the tracks, one might've thought there had to be a better way to resolve matters. But maybe not, short of changing residency regulations.
Maybe the situation was so far gone the only thing for compliant residents to do was to accept their one-time Shangri-la was history, and the system they relied on to protect it 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 trying to get away with.
In any event, many would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating simple affordable backwoods living were obliterated during Vista’s Intolerable Years, the period, again, roughly spanning from the mid 1970s through most of the 1990s. Here and there half-completed structures of varying ambition and construction 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 more 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 threadbare means, burned out living on the road with visions of building a bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. With champagne taste but 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 zealously enforced -- and costly to comply with. I planned to join the POWW's water-hauling group, thus avoiding having to drill a (likely) deep well that I couldn't' have even begun to afford.
To my impressionable mind, the growling entrance signs were of more than passing concern. Even if lots were cheap -- most listed between $1,500 and $1,750., with easy terms of $250. down and $25./month -- the place appeared more than a smidgen unfriendly. 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, “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 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 trying to settle. Also, to dissuade any would-be wood poachers, outlaw game hunters, trash dumpers, vehicle abandoners -- or miscreants harboring designs of plundering goods trustingly left in trailers and mobile homes on briefly visited parcels. (Even decades later, with hundreds of residents spread over the land, a huge, 12 X 40 foot, long vacant mobile was once snatched in the dead of night from one lot and hauled two miles to another without consequence.)
Maybe they needed that loud bark.
...with screenplay by Rod Serling
But the working principles of Chinese feng shui holds that the given energy at an entrance sets up a vibration the place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording 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
Conclusion of informal history
of the first fifty years of Mount Shasta Vista
"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 more 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. At least once a fistfight broke out on the floor.
It was as if the place had grown some deadly cancer that, left unchecked, was fatally metastasizing. The tsunami waves of bickering among the malcontent dwellers was so overwhelming it might've made rich fodder for the likes of 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 their good fortune, things suddenly turned to pandemonium once the flood of fellow seekers of the prized yellow stone began descending en masse. Similarly, earliest Vistans briefly luxuriated in having the domain all to themselves. They established their own lifestyle and had blind faith in the system, such as it was, to keep a semblance of fair-minded law and order in their de facto rural retirement village. But, like the first miners, they soon got run over.
Eventually they'd become like so many mad King Lears, imperiously shouting commands into the winds.
As more newcomers moved in, some opting to ignore code requirements, firstcomers still tenuously had the ball in their court through their established relations with county code enforcers and a lock on board membership. They ran with the ball, clinging to it for dear life. They'd dismiss as idiots anyone at meetings who took exception to their hardball tactics; such people obviously didn't understand the dire gravity of the situation. Beyond desperate, their bottom line was that, come hell or high water, they'd do their damnedest to keep county health and building codes enforced and so prevent the fabric of their fledgling community from hopelessly unraveling.
Desolated and shocked beyond endurance once depended on enforcement efforts grew threadbare, overwrought board members and cohorts stayed clad in armor, mace and sword at the ready, prepared to engage in growingly common, full-on, take-no-prisoners battles and either win or go down trying. For a while at meetings, they tried to dodge public discussion on a potentially inflammatory matter 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 banked 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!”
Despite their dedicated efforts, the well-heeled firstcomers’ dream of building a conventional backwoods retirement Shangri-la had inexorably turned into a nightmare. The Vista had come apart at the seams before disbelieving eyes.
As yet more settled in the junipers and sagebrush lands -- many of such modest means and with such free-spirited mindsets that the notion of building to code wasn't even considered -- the limited-resource country's code-enforcement officers' responsiveness had at last reached a tipping point. Beyond it they were unable and/or unwilling to enforce the codes and ordinances (the very ones that people living in town, nowhere to hide, perforce toed the line on). This, despite (or, perhaps, because of ) being duly appraised and constantly updated of the dire situation by the seething legal residency, haranguing them with each new-found infraction demanding swift response. The notion of taking an early retirement must've started looking good to some.
So it happened that eventually authorities had all but abandoned code enforcement efforts inside the misbegotten realm. One got the impression they liked to pretend it didn't 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 their annual property tax assessment.
Before the tipping point had been 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 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 busted. Others, more hardened, kept right on living the way they were. 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 proved 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 their plight. What a heartbreaking situation it must've been, seeing the place they'd heavily invested in and nurtured high hopes for to enjoy their golden years in irretrievably slip away. (Perhaps 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, law-abiding backwoods community...
...if still only a white bread one.
For while in later years, at least absentee ownership appeared to become racially diverse judging by the file list of owner names, actual residents in 2014 -- numbering yet only perhaps 300 or 350 -- were overwhelmingly white. 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, no one bearing expedient intents.
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 large melting-pot cities with their 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, such as it was. But it was all a moot point, for Wonnderbread it was a full half century.*
* One might say it wasn't prejudice, or flagrant law ignoring, alone that would later make the Vista's overwhelmingly white population generally unwelcoming to new, minority members. There's a natural inclination of any like-minded ethnic group to stick together in easy familiarity over time, and so be slow to adapt to any sudden change in the ethnic make-up. There would be a steep learning curve at play -- one fraught wit the potential for mutual suspicion and misunderstanding -- even in the best of circumstances. Certainly a willingness to be law abiding could go a long ways in helping the ethnic harmonizing process along.
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 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 require every buyer to conform to all county, state and federal rules, laws and ordinances on signing the legal title paperwork.
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: Feel free to skip this section, which offers the writer's personal experiences, if of little interest)
In October 1978 I snapped up a nice, gently sloping lot with inspiring mountain view for $1,750, at $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, and I set up a quick camp. While days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures plunged to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F. During my first morning after overnighting, an older man driving by -- not part of the volunteer posse, but nonetheless wound up like most every compliant, year-round resident -- 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 down at the fire.
“You got a permit for that?” he asked. Thus were my first words of welcome from the would-be community before I could even get in a 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 began to appreciate more fully, was more than just a little squirrelly around the edges.
While having intended to conform all along, if reluctantly, being a fairly timid, Walter Mitty type, law-abiding citizen (if obviously 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 in 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 then spartan lifestyle, extreme-weather bedding and a jury-rigged wood stove in the tent (not recommended). But, unbeknownst to me, the region was notorious for windstorms of such magnitude they beggared description. Coming out of nowhere, they 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 a building permit.
Before I got it, though, I was to experience the full heat of unknown intolerant neighbors. It seemed that ever-vigilant Vista board members and their cohorts had established a pipeline with local realtors for every Vista parcel sale made. Distant neighbors had 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 just sold a lot to a young long-hair, he'd refused to divulge where or to whom.
I found that sporting, at least.
Now a determined posse was hot on the trail of the latest scofflaw, systematically combing the endless back roads in search. Weeks later they finally tracked 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 building to code.
Their scorched-earth policy allowed no such wiggle room. Equal opportunity hasslers, anyone and everyone the least bit non-compliant who they didn't cotton to as one of them was duly thrown under the bus.
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 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 that 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 promised to let me join the by-then membership-capped water truck club when I was ready to build. So he'd grudgingly allowed me to become POWW's final and twenty-sixth 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 pretty much given up on the place. Devastated and demoralized, at age 29 I appeared to be gearing up to fade away into yet another homeless sunset. Instead, though fondest hopes and dreams by then felt hopelessly mangled, I dredged up some reserve willpower, paid the $125 water-truck membership fee, and was determined to invest the required time, money and effort to get legal and squared away over time. I'd then at least be able to live on the land with a modicum of dignity and salvage some peace of mind.
I passed the perc test and dug and installed an approved septic system. As per agreement, I then built an outhouse over the top of the buried, first inspected, tank and leach field. In part for the benefit of any busybody driving by to check out the scene of the obvious scofflaw'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. 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 having lots of energy to burn at age 29. 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 any longer interested in being accepted as such. It was like the classic Groucho Marx quip made over a restrictive country club's finally offering him a membership, despite being Jewish: I didn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. It'd be decades before I'd warm to the board and learn to appreciate its potential to do some actual good for the chronically floundering, perpetually at odds with itself, 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'd learn firsthand how board members and their ilk had a gift for radicalizing the place's denizens in their hell-bent campaign to return the place to some semblance of its former glory of absolute conformity, or, in frustration, at least demand a pound of flesh by giving hell to anyone not compliant. It felt as if the place was caught up in some 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 like the cut of my jib.
I soon got into far worse trouble. It seems I'd decided 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 begin 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 my long years on the road -- plus thinking to maybe liberate the stodgy development a tad -- I opened up my land and resources to all comers for what turned out to be 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 Vista powers that be.
I solemnly tendered my invite by letter to the rainbow steering committee, then holding its 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. 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'd named the land Earth Base, after a Seattle Capitol Hill fire station that had transformed into a community center and renamed Earth Station. Earth Base it was for years thereafter. In a way, the scene felt a little like the animated feature Yellow Submarine, when the Beatles' triumphant music turned the dreary frozen black-and-white world into brilliant technicolor.
Predictably, my terminally convention-minded neighbors, most living miles away, had a veritable conniption fit. While a few more liberal-minded retirees seemed tickled by it all, possibly rebels at heart who didn't see anything too threatening about the surreal scene, others wanted none of it. No free-spirited long-hairs with all their flagrant pot-smoking (then still very much illegal), shameless nudity, and unsettling tribal drumming far 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.
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), starting to flood their turf. The sheriff, reassured our ragtag group seemed a basically harmless if freaky bunch (apart from gleefully ignoring pot laws), causing only a temporary glitch in the terminally dull, conventional order of things, must've told apoplectic neighbors to basically just chill a while, grit their teeth, and it'd soon be over. Jaws surely dropped.
The system was abysmally failing them yet again.
The writer liked to think the ensuing free-spirited scene helped break the ice of the Vista's long-oppressive atmosphere, even if at the risk of possibly encouraging anarchy to gain a permanent foothold. Rebellious offspring of various outraged residents had visited the scene and loved it; I was an unlikely hero as the scene became part of Vista lore.
It seemed that over time the place would swing from one extreme to the other: From firstcomers' honeymoon period, happy campers giddy over the endless possibilities of their pristine lands to ruthless, law-and-order minded "No this, no that, don't even think about it" intolerance", then back to "Whoopee, anything goes!" albeit a more bold, scofflaw variety.
Gone eleven months of the year
The firstcomers' control-freak stance was, as noted, 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 some 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, hoped for, carefree vacations anticipated all year met with ugly reality check.
Clearly the natives, some third or fourth generation descendants of the region's pioneers and very set in their ways, were far from ever welcoming the newcomers into their fold. They'd mounted 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 angry sentiments of their families and carrying on a proud tradition of protesting the big city vacationeers's presence -- geared up their protracted war with the foreign la-la-landers who'd dared to try appropriating their wilderness playground and grazing land. Law enforcement could only do so much trying to work with the mostly absent owners, there being maybe at most a single overseer or two watching over seven square miles of property off season, and the actual land owner himself needing to report an incident to get any investigation.
By the time civic-minded lot owners started actually 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 might've 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 wouldn't -- landowners hoping to become respectable residents tried to comply. Or 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 had to make some real tough budget cuts. Among other actions they'd axed the position of residential-code enforcer that 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 wanted on 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 settlement living out a 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, wanting to exploit the seemingly unregulated land and disturb the place's treasured peace and quiet. Example: the place long ago had a monumental junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by yet-pristine, wooded lots; it took the board ages to get the county to condemn it and the place cleaned up.
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 these 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 always getting the short end of the stick was no doubt what made people want to rebel.)
Few Vistan parcel holders -- especially absentee, 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 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 a dominant southern California ownership to attend.)
At the risk of stating the obvious, it seemed impossible for a quasi community to gain any sense of centeredness without having a center. Needing to leave the place to attend the monthly meeting, and drive over ten miles to attend its annual meeting? While it struck more than a few as too weird for words, it only 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 had 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 often went begging at $5,000. Lacking any easier water, septic systems or electricity, or any more can-do, fair-minded, empowered board and appropriate CC&Rs, the place fairly shouted, "Beware! Failed subdivision!"
It just didn’t strike many as an inviting place to drop anchor. Only those enjoying roughing it a while, maybe. Or those determined to live on the cheap and wouldn't lose 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, and tried their best to tune out any gnarly politics. Or long-timers who'd known the place in kinder times and had sunk such deep roots, they were braced to weather changes that would make 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 the local property peddling circles, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them!” He said it with such vehemence, like the realm was maybe sitting on top of a radioactive waste dump, 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 closing such low-end realty generated.
Eventually though, two out-of-region realtor groups thought differently. Specializing in scouting rural developments deemed undervalued, in the late 2000s they snapped up hundreds of the bedeviled hinterland's parcels for cheap, properties that had long laid fallow (at least relieving many long-stuck or more recently-stuck parcel owners). Then they mounted slick sales campaigns to try remedying the obviously under-exploited situation, hoping to make a mint.
The first outfit was called National Recreational Properties, Inc.. It hired former "CHiPs" TV star Erik Estrada to serve as their uber-aggressive pitchman. Out of Irvine (possibly the same town as Vista founder Collins), it apparently had a penchant for going after failed, “left-for-dead” subdivisions, sharp talons squeezing out any easy quick profit before swooping off to the next rural roadkill. In ad promos "the Ponch" shamelessly enthused how the place was so great, he even had a parcel himself. (He was of course given it as part of the deal just so he could 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 that no one even showed up. (They were more successful with their Alturas, California area development, California Pines, which boasted over 15,000 one-acre parcels, each demanding the installation of a pricey, engineer-designed septic system, which hindered its development.)
A few years later, around 2012, another group, Billyland.com, likewise grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels, possibly taking some lots off the former's hands. They in turn seemed to be aiming at land-hungry Internet surfers. They'd hawk parcels online, eBay auction style, the 'winner' being the one making the highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they gushed. (With low monthly payments and a high interest rate, of course, final costs 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, 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 out there.)
By 2015, according to county records the Vista had a grand total of some 80 legally permitted residences. Out of 1,640 parcels, that was one in twenty, or five percent of the realm built up 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 launched a half century before, minus various scars of tree poachers and careless off-roaders.
Hope sprang eternal for some of the current speculative landholders, still thinking to maybe make a bundle. They set a ridiculously inflated price in listing with the realtor, thinking to snag an eager land-hungry buyer with more money than common 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, determined to keep out his own 'wrong kind of people', strode out within view of her buck naked and pranced about. It worked; the deal fell through.
“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”
It was no secret county supervisors rued the day they ever greenlit the woebegone development. One former Vista board president stalwart, Jeannette Hook, worked with county officials in her career. She said they viewed the Vista as "the red-headed stepchild no one knew what to do with."
Meanwhile, the place, having no fining power, was, short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, fully at the total mercy of county officials and enforcers to keep intact whatever shreds of respect for the rule of law yet remained.
But the huge, mostly rural county, on an overstretched budget and often understaffed, had of course 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'd try to forget its legal residency paid their salaries through annual county property taxes and, not unreasonably, expected them to earn their keep.
Despite -- or because of -- the number of non-compliant dwellers increasing, they still wouldn't respond short of an actual emergency. They must've realized it was 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 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 indeed changed the law in late 2016, reducing illegal grows to misdemeanors -- poured in out of nowhere, snapping up the remote parcels that had forever gone begging. The lots were steals for any willing to take a chance and bypass the strict permitting process that involved both state and county agencies. It would've been a wasted effort to apply anyhow, as the conservative county's board of supervisors would opt (as the state allowed) to ban commercial cannabis grows outside city limits.
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!" was again the rallying cry, as people started pouring in from everywhere.The supervisors might just as well have gone fishing for all the gleeful non-compliance their new ordinances, chiseled in stone, inspired. Hundreds of new instant Vista residents, sensing the ever changing cannabis laws and ordinances were all but unenforceable and a relative slap on the wrist if ever busted -- a $500 fine and crop confiscated -- with blinding speed rolled out unsanctioned grows exceeding the state's allowed personal six-plant plant limit 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 ever happen," claimed one official to media, head firmly stuck in the sand.
Studious ignoring of the development's long-term plight -- born of a rural county too poor, provincial-minded and/or lackadaisical to keep up with radically changing times or enforce its own ordinances and regulations, should people opt to ignore them -- had been careening on a collision course with reality for ages...
...until avoiding dealing with it proved something of an unwarranted luxury.
Fifth century B.C. Chinese philosophy Lao Tse said that the cause of anything is everything and the cause of everything is anything. It'd be unfair and over-simplistic to try pinning the blame for what happened in the development on any one cause or party.
There was an extraordinarily daunting confluence of cascading factors at play over time, countless ingredients in the place's recipe for disaster.
A brief recap of the major contributing factors:
Seller to the land developer didn't first get permission from the rest of the long-time-owning Martin family, creating a contentious vibe on the realm from the very start
Surrounding locals resented the place being allowed to develop, possibly including some county supervisor members who voted against its formation (ostensibly for lack of water)
Ambitious efforts of first settlers, 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 this being crucial to ever becoming recognized as a legitimate standard community
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 loathe to sink another cent in the place
The firebrand property owners board, along with other, heavily invested, first-comer residents, reacting to the rash of lot buyers determined to live on their newly purchased lots without conforming to county health and building code by declaring open war on them, zealously throwing them under the bus by reporting them to authorities, creating an uber-contentious social climate for decades
Expedient-minded realtors, not caring at all what one intended to do with their lot
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 actually themselves participating in the eventual mega realty boom sparked by California's liberalizing cannabis laws
County officials in time all but abandoning enforcement of the building code and state health regulations for a full half decade, starting during the Great Recession
More and more free-minded residents deeming home building-code standards ridiculously 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 almost seemed it was vying for the 'Most Dysfunctional Rural Development' award in some bizarro alternate universe.
Countless influences -- some possibly not even touched on here -- led the Vista to become the way it is now: a former shared recreational land forever trying to be something more despite the cards being stacked against it from the start...
...and, people being people and the Vista being the Vista, is still trying to...any way it can.
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