Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A year of Dialogue

(forthcoming in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer or Fall 2008)

A Year of Dialogue:
Thinking Myself into Mormonism

Sam Bhagwat

The Green Library stacks are a study in contradictions.

Outside lies Stanford grandeur--three-story stucco architecture spread across multiple thousands of acres, perfectly manicured lawns and plant arrangements, arches, gates, fountains. The rest of Green Library shares that aura: airy rotundas with marble floors and booming ceilings, elegantly decorated study lounges with comfortable, oversized couches, crisp clean top-of-the-line Apple G5 computers, luxurious carpeting, and well-lit lines of bookshelves holding knowledge in tens of different languages.

In contrast, the stacks are cramped and stark. At six foot two, I’m constantly afraid I’ll hit my head on the overhanging pipes and the sprinklers. Glaring fluorescent lights shine on the hard floors, and the occasional dusty computer looks to have been plucked from the turn of the millennium.

That’s where I went wandering on a warm October day in my junior year of college, searching for some book on Mormonism. I had been baptized LDS a couple of months earlier, after a journey that started when a girl I was dating sent me a Book of Mormon and walked me through 1 and 2 Nephi.

We broke up, but by happenstance I ended up with a Mormon roommate the next year. And in a time when a cloud of darkness surrounded me, I ran across Joseph on his way to church. “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19) would have been a pretty good description, if I had known the words then. He was late; and I made him later.

I kept coming back because of the fruits I saw: the tangible goodness of the people, the less tangible meatiness of the Book of Mormon, like the beauty of Lehi’s vision.

It was the empiricism of Alma 32 and that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36)--aspects emphasized by the man who would eventually baptize me--helped me see how such teachings could be true, even grand and wonderful. My occasional prayers, to know whether this stuff was true, grew in urgency. During one fast and testimony meeting, I received an answer; feelings of peace and love for the congregation bubbled out of me, and for thirty minutes I could not stop shaking.

Back at Stanford, I was curious about something or another and resolved I’d go to the library. Ascending some solid, utilitarian metal staircases, I found the book I was looking for, but then my eyes were drawn to a wall of red covers of bound magazines dating back forty years, dominating the Mormon section. On each red cover white letters spelled Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

The journal, I soon read, had been co-founded forty years earlier by Eugene England and Wes Johnson, then both Stanford professors. And, interestingly, Brother England had been in the bishopric of my ward.

I soon read other things. A lot of other things.

“How can I still call myself a member of this church?”

My journal of the time has been lost, but I vividly remember a maelstrom of emotions within a short timespan.

The first and hardest-hitting was disappointment. I felt sad. Let down. Shocked. Wanting to close the book, to end the emotional barrage, at the same time being sucked in, trying to learn more and realizing that closing the book was not the answer.

In a corner on the third floor, I turned the pages of Lester Bush’s articles about the priesthood ban and its racist origins and justifications. Others about baseball baptisms and inflated growth statistics in Latin America. Women, or the lack thereof, in the Book of Mormon. Mormon intellectual life and the September Six.

Emotions: estrangement, after an afternoon spent in the library reading Dialogue. I remember getting caught up in it and missing a Church activity, wondering, perhaps as a justification for not going, what the point was anyway.

I asked a few questions. On the one hand, I saw the point when the Institute director explained why he didn’t focus on historical “bales of straw.” On the other, that attitude assumed that Church teachings were correct in the first place.

It might sound silly, but I remember in particular an Institute class on eternal progression. The director taught the opposite position, but to me, Eugene England’s position (God is still progressing in knowledge) made sense and Bruce R. McConkie’s official reprimand seemed overbearing, at the least.

The end result was a question that sometimes popped into my head around then, prompted by these turbulent emotions: “How can I still call myself a member of this church?”

Especially embarrassment: the Litany of Embarrassing Stuff is probably longer for Mormons than members of other religions; certainly more immediate. Controversies over Muhammad’s wives--that happened over a millennium ago, in a different culture. Joseph Smith’s multiple wives? That was yesterday--in the 1840s, in Illinois.

Perhaps at this point, the conservative reader is getting the impression that interaction with less-faithful scholarship loosened my grip on the iron rod.

I’m sure it could have. But I don’t think it did, partly because of my chosen reactions but mostly because of what I was reacting to, and what I came to realize after deep study.

Shaping a story

I may be a bit wet behind the ears, but seven months full-time as a journalist gives me a bit of experience in recognizing and consciously articulating narratives, stories people tell that make a series of events coherent.

In political crises, old political structures vanish. “The actions that are then taken,” Milton Friedman said once, “depend on the ideas that are lying around." When personal crises occur, when life throws us unfamiliar data points hard and heavy, our old narratives, too, fragment, reform and crystallize--usually in the pattern of one of the ideas we have lying around. At such times, we form narratives whether we are trying to or not.

I needed a narrative.

My parents, accepting but opposing strongly my conversion, offered me one, sending me anti/post-Mormon literature. The critiques contained were constructed along historical and secular humanist line. They delve into any of the above events and say something like the following:

“I used to be a believing Mormon. Then I learned the truth about Mormon history. I saw how the lens of faith had warped my worldview, clouding my vision of what should have been in front of my face. So I decided to seek truth by leaving the Church, even though it was painful.”

For example: after detailing at length his personal investigation into Mormon history and subsequent departure from the Church, Chris Morin writes:

Scientific theories, which I had previously refused to consider, suddenly became credible, thus completing the demolition of my view of eternity. . . . Using faith and hope to determine truth failed me miserably in the past. Now I feel compelled, by experience, to base my beliefs on evidence and reason. . . .Earlier in our lives, [brother Brad and I] had felt compelled to justify our religious beliefs when we encountered a contradiction. Now we hope to let encounters with truth reshape our views, rather than try to force the facts to fit our faith.”

The Morins’ narrative is filled with anguish. Sadness over their lost faith. Over relatives’ misunderstanding, knee-jerk anger, severing of family ties, accusations that their estrangement is driven by sin.

This type of narrative--perfect illustrations of Friedman’s thesis--was lying on the floor, ready for me to pick up and make my own. I guess I didn’t realize what I got myself into. Eek! Let me get out before I get in too deep.

I’m glad this narrative wasn’t the only one.

Crucially, through the confusion and sadness, I knew I had still tasted sweet fruit. Most certainly, I wanted it all to make sense. Family home evenings were a refuge from the constant beat of school. When I went to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, I saw my fellow ward members looking like angels.

And yet, I knew I needed everything to fit together. While all this was going on, I e-mailed Church friends saying that there were a “whole host of considerations that I’ve temporarily set aside because of my experiences” and noted that “eventually, my faith will have to encompass and comprehend everything I know about the world, not just what I learn in church.”

And so learning about historical issues, including what was on offer in Dialogue, was just creating more problems.

But the way I found out of this swamp turned out to be the way in: a thoughtful examination of what Mormonism is.

The narrative I came to might be called “informed and faithful.” It sounds something like this, plucked from the website of amateur apologist Jeff Lindsay:

I recognize that the Church has plenty of those pesky mortals in it, even running much of it, and that means errors and problems and embarrassments from time to time. OK, I can’t give my full endorsement to every historical event and statement and practice over the years, neither in modern Church history or the Biblical record, for that matter. But I do think we have some amazing things that the world should know about, especially The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Got one?

This approach seems to consist of two basic propositions: (1) Mormonism has historical flaws and embarrassments, but (2) it really does have the truth and goodness it claims. For me, coming to this type of perspective started with reading the historical literature--the apologetics on both sides.

Still, while apologetic arguments giving context and explaining were helpful, for me they only got halfway. They seem largely a defensive tactic. Rarely in themselves do they show strength.

I found chiasmus, Nahom, and explanations of the Utah War helpful, but they still had to contend against divining rods, polygamy, and Mountain Meadows.

But over time, another non-obvious fact became clear to me. The same search process by which I found the problems of Mormonism, also helped me feast upon doctrines that continue “to enlarge my soul; to enlighten my understanding; to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28).

Of the myriad blog posts and articles, and occasional books, some stand out.

1. Blake T. Ostler on how (perhaps only) Mormon assumptions about uncreated humans give human agency teeth.

2. Eugene England, on the application of this agency: how a God who weeps for lost children but cannot interfere with their freedom to reject His love explains evil. I already delighted in: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11); this was more good fruit.

And any number of thoughtful commentators – especially Brother Ostler – on how concepts like faith, works, grace, salvation, theosis, covenants, sin, moral law, justice, and mercy are powerfully illuminated by the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s teachings.

Like most people, making myself reflect the ideas I believe requires models. I need someone I can identify with. Ideals are too abstract.

Ex-Mormons provide one possibility. They often remember from their days as Church members rigid stances that were unresponsive to and disengaged from different ideas. “At the time, no combination of words could have turned my convictions,” wrote Brad Morin. “My uncompromising zeal closed all avenues for discovering the error in my beliefs. I refused to question.”

They also often recall the pride of Church members that incompletely masks disdain and insensitivity for non-Mormons.
Brad recalls: “I once took great pride in Mormons and their goodness. I bristled whenever I heard someone criticize Utah Mormons.” Chris described his wife’s distress when her nonmember parents were excluded from their temple wedding: “I thought to myself . . . given that they had not accepted the gospel that could make their family an eternal family, then surely our wedding could not be important to them.”

Again, this is one model for viewing Mormonism. But it’s not the one I ended up adopting. Rather, I found myself learning from Nephi’s model: collective, self-examining repentance.

That principle of collective, self-examining repentance is perhaps the most important strategy I discovered in identifying with the “informed and faithful” narrative. It allows me to confronting human flaws and embarrassments as part of identifying with the “informed and faithful" narrative. I’m convinced that, though such repentance is never perfect in practice, it is still foundational to Mormonism.

On this, Margaret Blair Young’s essay reflecting on the ban prohibiting priesthood ordination for worthy black men struck me deeply. In explicitly or implicitly addressing secular critiques of Mormonism, the first step must be, as Young implicitly does, to acknowledge the point of such critics. Yes, it is logically possible to believe with zeal falsehoods propagated by leaders. But acknowledging this is not the same thing as ignoring overwhelming evidence that the Church’s main claims are false. Instead, it could mean that we are simply putting our stock in false beliefs that Church leaders are infallible, or that everything Church-related will be straightforward, neat, tidy, and clean.

Sister Young recalls the irony of a racist seminary teacher who believed that, after his many righteous years, he earned freedom from temptation:

I’ve wondered if he ever grasped his self-deception, if he ever realized that the most dangerous, most tenuous place of all is an enclosed system where all things are set and known--or pretend to be so.

The inertia invited by a desire for absolute certitude and closure is either the setting for the second law of thermodynamics--the tendency towards chaos--or it is simply death.

Reading that reflection of Sister Young, I felt some words of Nephi become real to me. I remembered that the ancient prophet had dished some choice language at enclosed systems -- or, at least, proponents of one type: “Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! For thus saith the Lord God: from them shall be taken away even that [wisdom] which they have” (2 Ne. 28:27, 29, 30).

Only a few verses earlier in the same chapter, Nephi had cautioned his readers against taking the erroneous position: “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well” (2 Ne. 28:21). This is how we are “pacified” and “lulled away into carnal security,” with the result that Satan will lead us “carefully down to hell” (2 Ne. 28:21).

Now, maybe I’m missing Nephi’s point. But he seems to be saying: It’s the same self-satisfied complacency, being “at ease in Zion” (2 Ne. 28:24), that motivates both of these errors. This complacency makes us assume we have all the Word we need; this complacency makes us assume all is fine and dandy in the Kingdom.

Note that such a self-satisfied complacency opposes both points of Brother Lindsay’s “informed and faithful” narrative. It refuses to acknowledge problems, and similarly--at least according to Nephi--deprives us of the truth we do have.

Returning to Sister Young’s piece, she smacks me over the head by making a similar point with a different Book of Mormon passage. “If opposition has ceased and self-examination has ceased,” she writes, “then growth has ceased.”
To expand on that: Lehi explains at length that, without the ability to be enticed by and choose between good and evil, “all things [would] be a compound in one,” and “if it should be one body it must remain as dead, having neither life nor death, happiness nor misery” (2 Ne. 2:11).

So Lehi says a world without choice and struggle is “as dead”; and Nephi says that people who proclaim falsely all is well – perhaps assuming all choices and struggles have departed – are being led to spiritual death.

Embracing this perspective, shaped by uniquely Mormon scripture, has helped me come to terms with another tick.

I sometimes restrain myself from frustration or impatience at various things I hear in church. I’m sure that sentiment is universal, even if the personal triggers of annoyance differ. For me, those include (what I perceive as) ill-phrased or ill-mannered proclamations that everyone will eventually convert, or testimony of divine providence that seems to disregard agency.

But the above perspective helps determine when to raise a hand or apply a mental filter: if others’ statements seem to promote collective complacency. This was reinforced for me when I read another Dialogue article.

In “Good Literature for a Chosen People,” Eugene England notes that we see ourselves, like Israel, as a chosen people – but don’t always realize the implications.

Brother England details what he calls “the Amos strategy”: a prophet who, at the height of the chosen people’s self-satisfied judgment of others, turns the judgment of God on them. Brother England gives as an example a sermon by President Spencer W. Kimball, which uses this strategy to rebuke the Saints for having absorbed the surrounding culture’s materialism and militarism.

[In the] Amos view, . . . being chosen means being the ones known and taught by the Lord and, thus, the ones most responsible to keep his commandments and be punished if one does not.
It does not mean being better than others, by definition more righteous and blessed. It does not even mean knowing the correct forms of worship and having special priesthood power to perform them as the core of one’s religion.
The Lord makes this painfully clear by saying, through Amos, ‘I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.’”

So, why didn’t I take up the post-Mormon narrative? At least partly because embarrassing stories look different through the definitely-Mormon lenses I found in Dialogue.

If pride and ease in Zion led the Morin brothers to look down on their neighbors; if the racist seminary teacher certain of his righteousness was really just saying he had ‘received, and need[ed] no more’; if it is because we think ‘chosen’ means ‘more righteous and blessed’, that we jump to circulate falsely attributed stories about being generals in the war in heaven, we must ask ourselves a question.

Are we willing to own up to our failures to keep the Lord’s commandments? I mean not just each of us individually, but we as a people?

Certainly--as in personal repentance--there is a balance between refusing to admit wrongdoing, and going overboard. On one the one hand, it is hard to change practices if you refuse to admit fault. On the other hand, it’s possible to get so wrapped up in admitting fault that you refuse to acknowledge and benefit from your strengths.

It’s a hard balance to keep, and I don’t know where it is personally -- let alone institutionally. But I do know that the collective, self-examining repentance involved is fundamental to Mormonism. And, though we may not speak in terms of collective repentance, we understand both why and how we must do it.

In the October 2008 general conference, after recalling the failure of early Saints to establish Zion in Missouri, D. Todd Christofferson cautioned us against judging them too harshly, because

we should look to ourselves to see if we are doing any better. ‘The Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them’ (Moses 7:18). If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard.

The message I take from Nephi and Lehi, from President Kimball and Elder Christofferson, from Brother England, Brother Lindsay, and Sister Young, is this: We are a chosen people, but only because we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Jesus Christ told Joseph Smith that the ministers of the time “draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (JS H 1:19). We are “chosen,” because latter-day revelation teaches us the process by which we may draw near with our hearts.

The main problems with Mormonism, I’ve come to believe, stem from the fact that too often, our hearts are--and my own heart is--still too far from the Lord.

That’s my narrative.


Milton Friedman quoted in Tyler Cowen, “Shock Jock,” New York Sun, October 3, 2007, (accessed 1/03/09)

Brad and Chris Morin, Suddenly Strangers: Surrendering Gods and Heroes (Chula Vista, Calif.: Aventine Press, 2004), 190–93.

Jeff Lindsay, “JeffLindsay.com - The Cracked Planet: Humor, Education, Mormons and Mormon Studies, Science, and Eclectic Items from Jeff Lindsay of Appleton, Wisconsin,” http://jefflindsay.com/index.html (accessed 12/15/08).

Blake T. Ostler, EXPLORING MORMON THOUGHT series (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books). Vol. 1: Attributes of God (2001); Vol. 2: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (2006); Vol. 3: Of God and Gods (2008).

Eugene England, “The Weeping God of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 1 (Spring 2002): http://content.lib.utah.edu/u?/dialogue,28651 (accessed 12/15/08).

Brad and Chris Morin, Suddenly Strangers, 168.
Ibid., 59, 42.
Margaret Blair Young, “Essay for June 9, 1998,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 1 (Spring 1999), http://content.lib.utah.edu/u?/dialogue,9612, (accessed 12/15/08).
Young, “Essay for June 9, 1998.”
Eugene England, “Good Literature for a Chosen People,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 1 (Spring 1999), http://content.lib.utah.edu/u?/dialogue,9578 (accessed 12/15/08).

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Come to Zion,” Ensign, November 2008, http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-947-13,00.html (accessed 12/15/08).

Why I'm going on a mission

“I can think of all the frameworks I want to [for my life], but until I write the central one of ‘God can work wonders in my life if I come with a broken heart & a contrite spirit’, it’s not going to matter much.” – Journal entry, July 15, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s Thursday night, and I’m laying down on the couch of my apartment at Stanford, relaxing. I’ve just completed my weekly academic sprint, and this one’s been a bit more grueling than typical.

Due Monday: a prepared 25-minute presentation, with Powerpoint. Due Wednesday: an accompanying 16-page rough draft. Due Thursday morning, mostly completed: two problem sets filled with partial differential equations, taking about 15 hours between them. Due Thursday afternoon, not turned in: an easier economics problem set. I had a freebie and needed a nap. I’ve slept 12 or 13 hours in the last three nights, none of them in my bed.

Possibly, this madness couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m awaiting an envelope that contains my fate for the next two years, and distraction isn’t such a bad thing right now.

The envelope contains a letter, a letter that beginning: “Dear Elder Samuel Mohun Bhagwat...”

It will contain two pieces of information: First, a date: when I am to begin two years of missionary service. Second, the location to which I will be dispatched.

Two years of my life.

When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was pretty obvious that going on a mission was The Thing To Do for young men. And my age as I emerged from the waters of baptism: 19 years, two weeks, and one day.

In the intervening months, I’ve heard a lot of people implicitly and explicitly urge me to go. And a lot of people explicitly urge me not to. But I don't that wasn’t the deciding factor.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the experienced, senior demon write that in the past, “men still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.”

Hyperbole aside, I humbly hope to be numbered among said men.

This is the chain of reasoning. In basic form, it’s the same as for other forms of Christianity.

1. Jesus Christ really lived and died and rose again, and so forth.
2. Having or believing this message benefits people. It’s important that they hear it.
3. Like, really, really important.
4. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and to spread His message.
5. Therefore we should love our neighbors and spread His message.

A preacher and evangelist was once inspired to preach by the column of an atheist who pointedly wrote:

If I firmly believed, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, then religion would mean to me everything....I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be: “WHAT SHALL IT PROFIT A MAN IF HE GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD AND LOSE HIS OWN SOUL?”

Logic, perilous logic. It entrapped me, forcing me to face my own evasion.

We Mormons make pretty radical claims. As one tenth of one percent of the world’s population, we accept as scripture a 450-page record that no one else does. We believe that, having this book, as well as other knowledge, we are under covenant to God, a covenant “not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.”

The next passage in that quote, publicly received by Joseph Smith and claimed as revelation from God, explains: “For the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin, [because] they come not unto me.”

Then, after being chastised for “treating lightly” the Book of Mormon, Mormons are commanded: “Go ye into all the world.”

Go ye into all the world. Go ye into all the world. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t? Any reason? Any reason at all...please?

One counter to chains of logic: there are most certainly classes of bad arguments from religious authority, where an argument, however logical, should be disqualified based on sheer incompatibility with moral intuition or evidence. One can use technical arguments reminiscent of medieval scholasticism to create inflexible and dogmatic positions. That doesn’t mean they are right.

On the moral intuition side: a non-Mormon Christian might say: ‘Jesus said that you had to be baptized to be saved. Jayu, a woman born in the interior of Borneo in 370 B.C., was never baptized. Therefore, she is destined for hell.’ Umm...does that seem fair to you?

On the evidence side, a Mormon might say, ‘Willford Woodruff [a past LDS Church president] said that the prophet would never lead the Church astray. Therefore, our leaders are never wrong.’ That doesn’t follow, plus it’s out of context...and besides, ‘never wrong’? Have you studied Church history? Or, say, the life of Moses?

Of course, these are a bit of straw men. Few, I hope, actually proceed in such a manner contrary to evidence.

It’s fairly easy to see the dangers in such narrow-minded, erroneous thinking resulting from believing bad arguments from religious authority.

It’s less easy to see the dangers in failing to trust another kind of argument from religious authority. Suppose the argument is not immoral. It isn’t faulty, nor is it based on incorrect premises, at least as far as you can tell. Yet it is hard to follow, calling you to do something difficult.

And yet – in the religious framework, of course – this often makes it more urgent.

Matthew tells of a wealthy young man whose possessions were a stumblingblock to higher things. Told by Jesus to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor, the young man does not comply, and leaves saddened.

The Book of Mormon tells again and again of prophets calling the people to repentance for their sins. In response, they “harden their hearts” and often attack the prophets.

One of the most interesting of these stories occurs in a discourse between the prophet Alma and his son Corianton.

After chastising Corianton for running off after a harlot, Alma warns him that in the afterlife that he will not be restored from this wickedness to happiness. Instead, Alma instructs, men are restored to good according to their desires for good, and evil according to their desires to do evil.

After a bit more doctrinal lecturing, Alma delivers a parting zinger:

“And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” (Alma 42:28)

In other words: kid, yer supposed to be preaching the gospel, and here yeh are runnin’ off after a woman of the streets. Yer only sittin’ here arguin’ doctrine ‘cause yer trying to justify yer damned sins. Yeh’d better start gettin’ on yer knees and praying instead – yeh got a long way back.

That Saturday night, I flew home to Michigan to spend the Thanksgiving week with my family. And on Monday, my roommate called and read me the news: I was called to serve in India.

My parents presented some cogent arguments why I shouldn’t go there. The Mumbai terrorist attacks two days later provided some more arguments. And yet I cannot escape the argument for missionary work I laid out earlier. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

A personal statement: my strongest testimony is in the Book of Mormon, and in the moral and theological framework which the revelations of Joseph Smith lay out. After study and prayer, I know I’ve heard and felt the word of God through later prophets, but still, less strongly. I think they’re inspired, but I wonder often about the degree of this inspiration.

(I do not mean to be glib here; I go into this issue some more in this essay.)

But after all that, I think again about the words of Alma.

“And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” (Alma 42:28)

Now, if you’re running after harlots, I’d urge you, as Alma urged his son Corianton, to set aside doctrinal issues and focus on repentance. Thankfully, I’m not. With the knowledge I do have, there is an important work for me to do. And so even if I am not completely “troubled no more” about doctrinal questions I have, there is a message that is my responsibility to humbly deliver to my fellow human beings.

The message: to turn their hearts to God, to humble themselves before him. To grow a faith of which they can say: “it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). To add unto this faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge. To that temperance, and patience: to that godliness and charity.

A dear friend of mine at school, a teacher, joined the LDS church in college, graduated, and went on a mission. Before we hugged and parted ways for two years, she told me two things. First, that this will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And second, that it will be incredibly rewarding.

I hope so.

For though I may alter my life largely as the result of a chain of logic, propositional knowledge is not nearly all I have, or that I hope to offer. I hope to give a message that can enlarge another’s soul; give her a relationship with her Heavenly Father. We don’t want just to know of God or about God – we want to know Him.

So why am I going on a mission?

I hope to be an instrument to provide this experiential knowledge for others. But I also hope to partake of it more myself.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Deep thoughts on basic gospel principles: Blake Ostler

I was beyond impressed by Blake Ostler in his book "The Problems of Theism and the Love of God." It's the second volume in his Exploring Mormon Thought series, called "the most important works on Mormon theology ever written."

In fact, I was so impressed that, in preparation for my mission, I took it upon myself to summarize a few key chapters (5-9) in this book.

I condensed about 200 pages down to 1000 words, so bear with me if this all seems a bit curt. In fact, if this line of thought seems curt but intriguing, I'd urge you to buy the book and read for yourself. It's probably the best money I've spent in some time.

By revisiting such central issues as faith, works, grace, salvation, theosis (becoming like God), covenants, sin, and moral law, with such insight and precision, Ostler has essentially written an "Advanced Gospel Essentials." It's a combination of meat and milk which I partook of with joy.

So without further ado:


Ostler's main point: What God offers us is an I-Thou relationship, in which each truly loves each other as subject, not object.


I'll start with the question that is the most pressing to me personally: why can’t we return to God, grow, etc, without the atonement?

A fundamental of LDS thought is that God writes his Law and puts it in our hearts (Romans 10:8, “The Light of Christ,” etc). Sin is falseness to this Law in our hearts; in turn, our betrayal of the law of love (John 13:34) is our choice to be alienated from other, enclosed in ourselves. Moreover, we (inevitably) engage in self-deception – including, if we hard-heartedly do good deeds, self-justification by works. “For if a man thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” (Galatians 6:3). Such deception takes away the light and truth. (1 John 1:10).

The solution is repentance. God has created a covenant relationship with us, in which anyone can get into the covenant. God is a “first mover” in the relationship: “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) A first mover is necessary to get to the good equilibrium, where each person loves the other. (Think prisoner's dilemma, if you know anything about game theory.) God is standing with his arms open, all we have to do to accept is turn around and walk into his arms (2 Nephi 1:15; Alma 5:33)

Which in human terms, means that: we walk into His arms by repenting, by producing “works of love,” giving good gifts with good intentions, not a hard heart (Moroni 7:6-10). Without producing such works, by calling ourselves followers of Christ we are still deceiving ourselves. (James 1:22-26). Moreover, doctrines like original sin are what humans have produced to escape accountability for their own sins, telling themselves ‘I’m rotten to the core, but not because of anything I did.’

A slightly different perspective: it takes such “works of love” to remain in the covenant, because only being honorable can a client (me) give honor to his patron (God). (The client-patron relationship was typical in the ancient Mediterranean; think student-professor, mentee-mentor.). In the covenant, we are offered his grace (Hebrews); through Christ’s atonement, we can have forgiveness of our sins and grow to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4-10). It makes us free (2 Nephi 2:26-27).

Wait, how does it make us free?

Scripture gives many examples of people who harden our hearts (see esp. Alma 10:5-7).
By trying to create and maintain an ego, a projected self-image, we as individuals do evil, failing to love others, even sometimes murdering, raping, and killing. In a social science experiment, people gave electric shocks to other people under the aegis of ‘testing.’ They then decided that those people deserved it because ‘a nice guy like me wouldn’t do stuff to someone who didn’t deserve it.’ This is how we often act.

In a fallen world, we have imbibed false traditions (Moses 6:55) Choices have become habits, habits have become our character, and have created barriers of alienation. Sometimes these patterns are passed down through the generations. Moreover, because of self-deception, we refuse to recognize them as sins.

This concords with a reality that we recognize – in which each of us that has lived any significant amount of time (6 to 8 years) has made choices that create separation and pain in relationships. In which each of us has made mistakes and committed willful sins that violate our own standards. (Interestingly, this ties into CS Lewis’s idea in Mere Christianity: the two fundamental things that we as humans know is that all societies have expected moral codes and that we break them).

The solution to this is the Atonement. Through the Atonement, we get the light of Christ which is our guide. We (= everyone in the world, not just Christians) could choose but would not know good from evil without the Atonement. We would not have consciences. But with the atonement, we do.

The atonement also lets God succcor us according to the flesh. (Alma 7:12). It enables the I-Thou relationship, in which two people recognize each other as people, not objects, worthy as ends, not just means.

“Because God himself in Christ descended below all things, we cannot complain that he does not know, cannot comprehend, cannot be with us in our suffering and alienation from God.” (D&C 122:7-8, Mark 15:34)

The pain in Gethsemane, in Christ’s atonement in general, comes from this love, from loving us and not having us love him back in return. It comes when Christ takes upon him the pain, the psychosomatic guilt, that we feel from our sins (D&C 19:16).

Finally, the Atonement lets us end our self-deception. God’s grace tells us that we don’t need to create a false ego, including by doing evil, to be justified. Instead, we are justified initially by His grace – that is, he loves us, not our public fronts.

We must be willing to put aside the false traditions we have imbibed, become again “as a child, submissive, meek, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19) This is offering a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (Psalms 51:17, 3 Nephi 9:20). More graphically, it is being circumcised of heart (Romans 2:28-29) – cutting our most private part open to God.

When we open ourselves to God we begin to “receive his image in our countenances.” We “experience a mighty change in our hearts.” (Alma 5:14, 19). We begin to grow to become like God – to accept the gift he offers us.

Of course. we can reject Christ’s love and persist in sin.

“But he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes in the way of sin and rebellion against God, remains in his fallen state and the devil has all power over him. Therefore, he is as though there were no redemption made, being an enemy to God.”(Mosiah 16:4-5)

This, of course, involves the greatest self-deception of all, that we would be happier without God’s love.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

a query on Mormonism

My freshman roommate Martin asked me how I reconciled some of my previous beliefs like atheism and basing things off empirical evidence with my Mormon faith.

My reply:

"For me, my main problem with religion was the simple truth question: if you're asserting some religious claim., how do you know that? I never really disliked religion, I just didn't think it was true.

As a result, I was more of an agnostic than an atheist, prizing (then and now) empiricism and the scientific way of knowing things. It was one extended passage from the Book of Mormon - extremely well-cited and beautifully empiricist - that helped start and sustain me on the path to belief: "And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good"...and so on.

Personally reconciling that outlook with the Mormon faith....I still see atheism is a coherent (lack of) religious belief, even if I am no longer an atheist. Interestingly, though, LDS thought starting with Joseph Smith is infused with heavy doses of gnosticism and empiricism, as well as a general prizing of religious and secular knowledge and a willingness to accept other traditions as good or even partially inspired by God.

Something I've realized about myself is that in my yearning for knowledge, more than anything else I yearn for frameworks to look at things. Like economics looks at frameworks of incentives in understanding how society works. (=why I'm an econ major)

When I was in Florida last summer, the man who eventually baptized me was insistent than the LDS framework was extremely conducive to a scientific, emprirical mindset, pointing to LDS scriptural verses like "the glory of God is intelligence." That was my big intellectual roadblock to faith; when I came around to Adam's view and had spiritual experiences (=evidence), then I believed.

But about the empiricism thing - think about LDS beliefs that man can become like God, or that the latter-day church has additional truths that are not available in other Christian denominations.

On those bases, a traditional methods of copping-out of theological dilemmas simply doesn't fly. That being, saying we can't understand God's ways, our understanding is microscopic compared to His, and citing Isaiah 55:9 ("For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts"). I do still hear that occasionally, especially re: not wanting to admit mistakes like denying blacks the priesthood.

Of course, you have the church's reputation (somewhat deserved, but not really) for being authoritarian and hierarchal...but I see the sort of synthesis of empiricism and religion - not to mention individual free agency - as basic in Mormonism and am quite willing to ignore quotes from past conservative church leaders to the contrary."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mega-development series

This is my a 24,000 word series -- in short, a somewhat pointed attempt to chronicle half a century of (lack of) economic development in sleepy Glenn County, CA -- a small rural county with then-15% unemployment and a palpable lack of youth. Big stories in bold.

History: approved, successful projects: 
History: rejected projects: 
Economics: The broader picture:
Local color:

Thunderhill: thawing the development freeze

Thunderhill: thawing the development freeze
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
And then there was Thunderhill.
The racetrack outside of Willows ranks with the Johns-Manville factory – the two big Glenn County developments in the last half-century.
For director David Vodden, it was an education in how the planning process actually worked.
And with friendly supervisor Dick Mudd on his side, he was able to successfully tack against the wind.
According to an economic analysis prepared by Chico State’s Center for Economic Development, the racetrack has generated 301 jobs in the county.
So if Thunderhill evaporated tomorrow, the Glenn County unemployment rate would soon climb to 11.5% from 9.1%.
For the 15 years since the track was built, Thunderhill director David Vodden has been relaying his education on planning to fellow racing enthusiasts.
“It’s like a girl,” said Mr. Vodden.
He cuts off before continuing his courting analogy, exclaiming, “I can’t tell you that!”
When he started, he thought that would mean finding and buying land and telling county planning officials, “Hi, I’m David Vodden, and we want to put (a racetrack) here.”
“That failed in Stanislaus County,” he says. “It failed in Solano. We tried in Fresno” – but that failed too.
In Stanislaus, he remembers it being “very, very serious,” spending “not millions, not hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In those counties, he took out an option on the land, designed a track, and used lots and lots of volunteer time – and then asked planning if he could build it.
“Nobody said, ‘when pigs fly.’”
“They say, fill out this form, fill out that form,” only to kill the project at the end.
“Neighbors understood the project as impacting them personally, and because they’d been there a long time...”
He did it that way, because, he recalls, “that’s the way we understood the system worked.”
The lesson he learned?
Give the reins to county officials, he saTys. Go to them and feed them this line: “Our future is in doubt. We want to build a home for the next 50 years. Would you be interested?”
“Then you ask, ‘where would we put such a facility?’”, Mr. Vodden says.
When he saw a San Francisco Chronicle front-page story on Yuba County being broke, he decided to go there, on the theory that “they might not turn out the military to oppose us.”
In the meeting, he found a silver bullet: Dick Mudd, Glenn County supervisor and racing fan.
Mr. Mudd did a lot of leg work, persuading people that the project would be an opportunity and not the downfall of the community.
“Being associated with someone local who was trusted and who could vouch for the project” definitely helped, Mr. Vodden recalls.
“I wasn’t Jesus,” Mr. Mudd says.
Knowing that the piece of property on which the track ended up being built was for sale, he told David Vodden about it.
Living in the area, Mr. Mudd knew a piece of land up for sale. It was, as Mr. Vodden says charitably, “kind of marginal farmland.”
So with the local dislike to building on good soil defrayed, Mr. Mudd went around to defray concerns about what type of people it would attract.
“This was a project that could have been, and probably was, misunderstood,” Mr. Vodden explained.
“Was it a circle track, a drag strip, what?  Racing people are, ‘fill in the blank.’”  
Mr. Mudd went around the county and asked people what they thought.
“They said, ‘hell, we’re going to have those people here?’”, he recalls. “Hell’s Angels were going around raping and throwing beer on people then.”
“And anyone coming out of San Francisco is subject to scrutiny.”
“They didn’t understand that the people coming here had money.”
“No one would have understood the actual demographic profile of the road racer,” Mr. Vodden agrees. “So that would have been misunderstood and possibly misused too.
Mr. Mudd said he took a lot of time, both in his district and others, to convince people.
To him, the main problem was a mindset thing.
Living in the country, “you get a bit on the independent side” and liable to pipe up when a big facility is proposed in your backyard.
Some requirements were still skirted around. The land got a tax break under the Williamson Act, which allows horse racing, but, it looked like, not auto racing.
The reaction then?
“Hell, those cars got a lot of horsepower,” Mr. Mudd recalls, laughing.
“Only this last year, the racetrack had to buy its way out of the Act, under scrutiny. It cost a lot of money.”
What was the eventual reaction to Mr. Mudd’s sales pitch?
“They said, 'if you think it’s all right, Dick, then we’re okay with it.'”
“Clearly Dick Mudd mitigated a great many unknown variables that could easily have been misunderstood,” Mr. Vodden says.
Otherwise, people could have “paint(ed) a picture of the project that, no matter how inaccurate, would have been fuel for opposition to a race track.”
Then, such perceptions could have been “easily used to stop the project by everyone and anyone who may have wanted to stop it for personal reasons or on general principles.”
“I think I was the only one on the board that knew about racing,” Mr. Mudd says. “The rest of the board – if (Thunderhill) suited me, it suited them.”
Mr. Vodden says he’ll never know for sure what would have happened without Mr. Mudd, and others also helped out a lot.
“But I think Dick did make the difference,” he concludes.

For the Thunderhill story:

What? The Thunderhill racetrack west of Willows.
Who? Proposed by David Vodden,
When? 1992
So what? Was rejected in Solano, Stanislaus, and Fresno counties first; today, provides 300 jobs, mostly because of visitors.
For: Willows Chamber of Commerce
Against: Rice farmers, Golden Pheasant Inn proprietor Jack Ortner
Killed by: Surprisingly, nobody – thanks in large part to the efforts of rancher, racing fan, and then-supervisor Dick Mudd.

No pen for Glenn

No pen for Glenn 
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
A clean, recession-proof industry, said local fans.

And servicing the 1700 facility residents would require a staff of 700, promoters trumpeted.

Those potential area newcomers?

Inmates of a state prison, probably a Level III medium security, proposed for Glenn County in 1985. But while the possible new residents concerned locals, it was worries about their relatives that probably doomed the project.

“It’s the type of people the prison would draw to your community,” then?-and-now supervisor Keith Hansen says. “Why, for a few more tax dollars, would we want to give (that) up?”

The chances were 50-50 of a prison coming here if the political climate was favorable, Department of Corrections officials told economic development commissioners in a Nov. 1985 meeting.

It wasn’t.

First floated in June 1985, the proposal eventually died a year later on the June 1986 ballot, with a measure asking the state to perform a study on the topic going down in flames. The tally: 1941 for, 4542 against. Turnout here was 65 percent, compared to 40 percent statewide.

Ink flowed in the pages of the Willows Journal, with 30 letters in the opinions page in the month before the election. Nine were for the measure, 21 against; almost the same percentage as the vote.

Why did people go against the prison?

Largely because of then then-judge Roy MacFarland, Mr. Hansen says.

“People trust the judge,” he says.

Citizens were concerned over the social effects of a prison – prison families moving to the area, the prison decreasing the quality of life, engulfing the community.

Opponents seemed fairly organized; with former county auditor Joe Sites remembering a three-person group including himself and Judge MacFarland that would take turns speaking at public meetings.

Asked about their personal impression of the proposed prison, many recount personal experiences or conversations with those who have dealt with one.

“I grew up in San Rafael next to San Quentin,” then-Willows city manager Russ Melquist says. “I saw no bad effects compared to the number of jobs.”

Asking the Lassen County auditor about the prisons in Susanville, former county auditor Joe Sites was told that they were nothing but trouble.

Though sometimes exactly what information Lassen County officials had to offer wasn’t apparent at the time.

In a July 3, 1985 Willows Journal article, Glenn County sheriff Roger Roberts said he had talked to his counterpart in Susanville, who told him that “welfare and drug problems quadruple” when a prison moves to the area. He worried about the extra cost of investigating crimes committed at the facility about delays in state reimbursement of such cost.

“’My budget is already under fire,’ concluded Sheriff Roberts. ‘How do I handle the extra crime?’”

So the Lassen County sheriff thought the prison had been a bad thing, right?

Maybe not: two months later, economic development commissioner Pat Silva recounted how her initial opposition to a prison melted when she toured the prison in Susanville with a group from Glenn County, remarked upon returning.

“We met with a supervisor, the sheriff, the police chief and state officials,” Mrs. Silva said. “Everyone said, ‘we can’t say enough about the prison.’”

The prison’s upside: jobs.

Glenn County’s unemployment rate then was, conservatively, 15 percent. Data is not readily available; we estimated using available local data from four years later and 1986 state data. Contemporary letter writers arguing for the prison because of the jobs it would bring gave unemployment figures of “more than 12 percent” and 16.5 percent.

That is, between one in six and one in eight Glenn County-ites looking for work then could not find it.

“Glenn County’s economy is shattered,” Mr. Wiest wrote then in favor of the prison.

The prison would offer 700 jobs and a $19 million payroll, but a big question was how many would be held by locals. Opponents Bernhardt Kaiser and Sarah Odom said only 10 percent; corrections officials said 75 percent; one supporter said 50 percent.

And around another 350 jobs would be created indirectly as a result of the prison, corrections officials and local supporters said – teachers, gas station attendants, and so on. We’ll guess half of these jobs would be held by locals, not new people moving in.

Using opponents’ 10 percent figures and our guess, a prison would have lowered the unemployment rate about two-and-a-half percent. Put another way, about one out of every six people out of work then would get a job.

In conversation with Mr. Hansen, soon after talking about the prison, he mentions how he’s having trouble finding reliable, hard workers to farm his land. What’s missing, he says, is usually someone’s willingness to work, not employment for them around the county.

“Most of the people who want a job have a job,” he says.

Records in the Journal show concerns over power of the prison in the community, economic and social.

“A prison is here forever and ever, never getting smaller, just getting larger and engulfing our whole area and county,” wrote grandparents “Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Manos Jr.”

“People move here because of the quality of life,” Alice MacFarland told the Journal, in an article profiling leading prison opponents. “What would the quality of life be with a prison here?”

“From my experience living in Glenn County, as well as my experience living very near a prison, I feel that the costs of a prison outweigh the benefits considerably,” wrote high school teacher Dennis Halley. The costs he listed, in addition to a greater need for the courts and law enforcement, were changes in the county’s “rural and agricultural atmosphere and character.”

District Attorney Craig Stevenson echoed Sheriff Roberts’ concerns about costs.

“We would have to provide jurors for four-week murder trials,” he said. “We would also have to provide the entire judicial system needed for all these felony cases (which some expected to double), including the public defender, court rooms, prosecutors, judges, the whole deal.”

The volume of letters to the Journal shows a heated debate, with many facts under dispute. Rather vehement opinions were on display, especially around Willows councilman Matt Wiest.

Would a prison have come here if Measure A was passed? “Almost certainly,” wrote former Orland city councilwoman Darlene Friesen in a letter to the Journal. “More garbage,” responds Mr. Wiest to the idea, one column later. “From a feasibility study, there are at least half-dozen additional steps where public input is required for a stop or go decision.”

Today, Mr. Wiest recalls the farmer and prison opponent Tom Ratliff: “Over the prison, I lost his friendship. Certainly his family never talked to me again.”

“I probably said some things I shouldn’t have.”

Perhaps like this one, in a letter to the Journal: “In fact, the probability of (a prison) being built is slim to none even if the measure passes with a 90 percent vote. I would even be willing to bet all of Tom Ratliff’s money on that.”

But in the end, the only thing on the ballot less popular on the June 1986 ballot than the prison was current sheriff’s lieutenant Phil Revolinsky, then a candidate for the high office. (Lt. Revolinsky went down to incumbent sheriff Roger Roberts, getting only 18 percent of the vote.)

Reading old articles on the prison, one notices a theme in development battles, perhaps expressed most prominently in debates over a 1982 Artois mobile home park. Opponents admit a need for this type of development, but argue that the current proposal was not the way to solve the problem.

“Why don’t we seek out something else to bring jobs?”, commented Mrs. MacFarland. “This would be a great place for a central warehouse. The city of the county might put up some land to entice something like that.”

Letter writer Donna Barron agreed, quoting a consultant who said that Glenn County has much to offer, but that the county was doing a poor job of selling itself.

“I know that Glenn County and its citizens can do better than a prison,” she concluded. “There must be better options out there that our elected officials can come up with!”

There must be better options out there that our elected officials can come up with!

Unfortunately, Ms. Barron seemed to view development the same way others view second marriages.

“The triumph of hope over experience.”

Summary: (box this)
What? A state prison corrections officials were “50-50” on putting in Glenn County, if the local political environment was favorable. It wasn’t.
Who: 1700 inmates would have resided in the prison, probably a Level III medium security.
When? 1985 and 1986
So what? Would have provided about 1000 prison and support jobs. Locals would get, conservatively, 250; the number is probably closer to 500 or 600.
For: Former Willows councilman Matt Wiest, many local merchants
Against: Judge Roy MacFarland, DA Craig Stevenson, Sheriff Roger Roberts, county auditor Joe Sites
Killed by: Seventy percent of voters in the June 1986 election; a proposal to ask the state to study the issue, the first step, was on the ballot.

‘Controlled growth’ is meaningless term

‘Controlled growth’ is meaningless term

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Interviewed in January about re-election, supervisor John Amaro said economic development would be on his platform. “My biggest interest is growth of the county and being part of that,” he said. “Keeping the rural way of life while keeping job opportunities.”

“I feel like agriculture is a big part of Glenn County, but planned growth is a part too,” said recent supervisor candidate Bill Payer in March.

add details from your interviews if you would like.

If those statements seem well-meaning but, well, meaningless, that’s because they are.

What exactly does agriculture with planned growth mean? About the same as a rural way of life with job opportunities” – very little. I’m for agriculture means something. So does I’m for creating job opportunities or I’m for encouraging growth.

In Glenn County, the two are usually opposed. So when you put the yin and the yang together, you’ve got a whole spectrum of options, and the precise meaning is very hard to nail down.

But don’t be too hard on Mr. Payer or Mr. Amaro. The problem is endemic, afflicting experienced politicians with many more whiskers on their cheek.

“I’m for controlled growth,” says former supervisor and rancher Dick Mudd. Growth, he said, should not be detrimental to society or to the landscape.

“I’d hate this area developing like LA,” said former Willows city councilman Matt Wiest. “I thought if we could control it” development would be good.

“We need any kind of growth we can get,” says former Willows city manager Russ Melquist, before quickly adding: “Good growth. Good development.”

Jamison Watts, the head of a land trust helping farmers obtain easements keeping land in farming, says he’s not anti-development, he’s for controlled development.

“The object of (the program) is not to block development,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is get in the way of county and city planning department. (It’s) just one way to protect farmland for future generations.”

There’s a convergence towards meaningless language here. One is in a world where, as a Alice Through the Looking Glass character put it, that “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Mr. Watts helps farmer get subsidies for destroying the rights to develop their land.

Mr. Mudd is a former supervisor who was instrumental in bringing Thunderhill here in 1992, but vocally opposed to a proposed prison in 1985, and refers to a coal plant proposed in 1978 as “one of the things we jumped up and shot down.”

“It was going to be a disruption,” said Mr. Mudd. “You’re going to be overrun. You’d have to have a monstrous pile to put the coals. The railroad (coming through.)”

“Whenever you come and build up coal plants, prisons,” Mr. Mudd said, “a lot of us think, the minute you cover up this property, you better have a darn good reason.

Mr. Wiest who moved here from Southern California in 1959 and ran for council shortly thereafter. When this reporter mentions Mr. Wiest’s positions, rancher and former supervisor Dave Soeth, says that sometimes, people come from L. A. and “want to make Glenn County like where they came from.”

Though Mr. Soeth emphasizes he doesn’t really know Mr. Wiest, the pro-development shoe definitely fits.

Mr. Wiest was key in bringing Johns-Manville here, outspoken in favor of both the coal plant and prison, and growth in general. On the coal plant, he engaged in a very public debate with supervisor and opponent Jean Rumiano, and was accused of being a PG&E stooge.

On the prison, he remembers losing the friendship of farmer and opponent Tom Ratliff. In the midst of the debate, he began a letter to the editor with the remark “my friends have asked me – all two of them,” continued by calling some opponents’ claims ‘more garbage’ and ending by sarcastically offering to bet all of Tom Ratliff’s money that no prison would come to Glenn County even if a study was approved.

Mr. Melquist seems mildly wistful that the coal plant didn’t end up here, before concluding it probably was a good thing after all, because “coal was probably not the place to look for energy. “And though he recalls strong opposition to the proposed prison, he says he personally thought it would have been good for the county.

The group runs the spectrum from pro- to anti-development. All except Mr. Watts have a long and extensive involvement.

And yet, when they put forth their general positions, you can barely tell which belongs to whom.

‘Private property’ not much better

‘Private property’ not much better
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Plumbing fourteen years of Willows Journal stories on development, one will occasionally stumble about historical gems buried in dusty microfilm.

Probably the most ironic begins on April 17, 1981, when at the behest of the Glenn-Colusa Board of Realtors, Willows mayor Ernie Matlock declared April 19 through 25 to be Private Property Week.

The proclamation:

“Of all the rights we have, one of the most precious is the right to acquire real property and to own it, use it, or transfer it as we see fit, without interference, as long as we do not infringe on the rights of others.

This right to private ownership of real property has generated other fundamental American liberties, including the free enterprise system and political freedom-principles that have built this nation into the world’s greatest.

In order that property owners may exercise these rights while maintaining and preserving them in the future, it is necessary for all of those to understand and protect our rights to own real property now.”

Two months later after that gem of rhetoric passed, developer James Orosco applied for a permit to build 450 mobile homes on a parcel north of Artois.

He bought the land for a cool half-million, and spent another $100,000 preparing the application and fighting for approval. Today, that sum of money is worth about $1.4 million.

Admittedly; the good citizens of Artois had nothing to do with a Willows council proclamation.

But from the crisp, high-minded language to the messy political battle, the loophole of ‘not infringing on the rights of others’ expanded through the roof.

And that caused the general idea of a ‘right to own and use real property as we see fit’ to be seemingly tossed out the window.

So: it’s not that the term ‘private property’ is meaningless, but it is vague enough to drive a truck through. Few mean it – or perhaps even think of it.

Consider a planning commission hearing covered by the Journal.

“It seems like the citizens of Artois don’t want a thousand new people here,’ chairman Vernon Vereschagin said.

To which a chorus of ‘that’s right(s)’ rang back.

“We don’t care if it’s 437 or 37,” Artois resident Barbara Petersen told the commissioners. “We don’t want it...we don’t need it.”

“Amen,” declared the group.

Other concerns were raised that seemed directly contrary to ‘use as you see fit.’

Consider the following excerpt from a speech by Chico environmental activist Patrick Porgans, hired by Artois citizens to oppose the project. This is from two pages of transcript, in which he urges more stringent conditions for the project’s I-5 noise barrier.

“The noise levels of the calculated noise are in excess of those allowed for residential units, since mobile homes are just recently beginning to have qualities equivalent to sound insulated, single family homes. There are two things that need to be done. One, a grated separation between the dwelling units and the sound source. A properly constructed noise barrier may be satisfactory, but this would depend on the type of material used. A board fence has good sound reduction qualities, but is not adequate enough...”

Or Supervisor Stephen Blacet, in the only remarks of a 55-page transcript discussion, before voting to deny the project.

“It is a fact that we are going to have to start and bring up the future of transportation in this County; I can see that this problem is getting bigger. There will be more demand. I don’t know that the idea of a project is good; I only wish it were closer to a large city, either Orland or Willows. The use of the gasoline alone, energy, going nearly seven miles from Orland, probably the same distance from Willows every time anyone goes out, that is extra energy being used. The police and fire protection would be better, if they were closer to a big city.”

Or Supervisor Fred Pride’s conclusion, explaining why he was seconding the motion to deny the project:

“As a result of my review of the EIR, in regard to a no project, I don’t feel that this project best serves the needs of our community. The overall future general housing needs of Glenn County might be best constructed in locations and in such manner as to better serve specific needs.”

Or Supervisor Jean Rumiano’s extended discussion of why no one could afford to live in the mobile home park (why would a developer build a park he couldn’t expect to sell?) and conclusion, before making said motion:

“When I look at a development of this size, I find it very difficult to say to myself, yes, I want to make Artois a big place. I have a hard time in my own conscience trying to come to terms with 426 units in a community the size of Artois.”

Private property, private property...anyone?

In the course of researching this series, this reporter spoke with several prominent Glenn County farmers and ranchers involved with the issue – Keith Hansen, Dick Mudd, Dave Soeth.

When asked about the common charge that the ag community is blocking growth, to the detriment of the county, the farmers and ranchers generally object.

They point to particular ag developments they like and support, like an olive oil processing plant planned for Artois, and a rice straw plant the Boyd family has been trying to build for twenty years.

That’s the flavor of development, they say, that unequivocally fits and blends with Glenn County.

It’s a defense that’s been leveled in the past as well.

In October 1985, when Willows Journal publisher Joe Bradley accusing a “no-growth” faction of farmers of blocking a proposed prison, several took offense.

Jim Aguiar, John Vereschagin, Joel Wright, and Walter Jasper – former members of the Glenn County Housing Authority – replied vehemently to Mr. Bradley.

“We can understand, Mr. Bradley, that you have not been in Glenn County long enough to know the past history of what some of the “No Growth” citizens have done to try to promote a work force and help bring income into the county, so we would like to try to enlighten you to a few facts.

“In 1976, the Glenn County Housing Authority was reactivated, and a new committee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to try to get some housing for agricultural workers in the county. The thought behind the effort was to provide housing to get and keep a stable work force in the county. The people who were appointed to this housing authority worked for three years – at no cost to the county – to get information on types of housing, costs involved, number of workers needed, and whatever else information was needed for such a large project. They also learned how money could be made available through the Federal Government – again at no cost to the county – which could be paid back from the inhabitants of the houses. The project was supported by the sheriff’s department.

“Would you believe what groups were the largest opponents of the project? The cities of Orland and Willows, and the real estate people. Do you know why the issue lost to the (popular) vote? Because the real estate people put out a large campaign against it, and convinced the people in our cities that we were going to have a huge influx of unwanted people (known as farm laborers – mixed by color and creed).

“Sincerely, former members of the now disbanded Glenn County Housing Authority.”

Supes’ arbitrary excuses killed Artois mobile home park

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Artois population, 1981: 240

Artois population, 2000: 209

Sitting directly north of the hamlet, across County Road 33, lies a sleepy 100 acres of land – sandwiched between the old highway and the new freeway, cut across by meandering Walker Creek.

It was once slated for far bigger plans.

In 1980, Bay Area developer James Orosco came to town with plans to build a mobile home park that would overshadow the existing city.

The 457 units would hold 1100 people, overshadowing Artois.

While Mr. Orosco touted planned features like open space, sewage treatment facilities, year-round ponds, and a community center with billiard room, conference room, and pool, many neighbors were very skeptical and extremely vocal.

In the end, their opposition not only killed the project, it unearthed a conflict of interest resulting in the resignation of the planning director.

The repercussions still rebound, and not just in county planning lore.

For example: do you rent your home, or have you bought it since 1982?

Reach into your wallet; take out a Hamilton and a Lincoln – that’s $15. Find a friend with a lighter. And set the bills ablaze.

That’s the average impact through higher payments, once a month, every month, for every renter and recent buyer, because the project didn’t go through.

And sifting through the reasons the project was denied, one finds only thin straws.

There were a couple of reasonable justifications, buried in several nonsensical ones upon which supervisors based decisions.

“The use of the gasoline alone going nearly seven miles from Orland, probably the same distance from Willows every time anyone goes out. That is extra energy being used!”

So said supervisor Stephen Blacet, giving his only explanation as to why he voted against the project in 55 pages of transcript.

And one big, broken promise.

“There is a need” for mobile homes, then-and-now supervisor Keith Hansen said, before voting to block the project. “If we turn down this project, we have an obligation to develop alternatives.”

That didn’t happen.

The average household living in the park, the application said, would be a husband and wife near middle-age, along with a child or two, with income from $10,000 to $14,000. The medium family income in California in 1981 was about $15,000.

The proposed park probably wouldn’t bring additional people to Glenn County, then-planning director Ed Howard wrote after his conflict of interest was discovered, but instead “tend to concentrate some of the natural growth in one small area.”

There were a lot of unanswered questions, recalls Valley Mirror managing editor Donna Settle, then a secretary for Paul Heyrand, a leading opponent.

“Paul was opposed for selfish reasons – it would have been across the street for him,” she says. But others, she said, were worried about the flooding.

That was one of two legitimate issues in the debate; these still seem thin reeds for rejection. The other:

“‘It seems like the citizens of Artois don’t want a thousand new people here,’ then-Planning Commission chairman Vernon Vereschagin said at a hearing, recorded in a Willows Journal article.

To which a chorus of ‘that’s right(s)’ rang back.

‘We don’t care if it’s 437 or 37,’ Barbara Petersen told the commissioners. ‘We don’t want it...we don’t need it.’

‘Amen,’ declared the group.”

The land had been zoned “planned development” since 1973.

With some opponents, no dialogue was possible. Witness the following sequence at a town hall meeting, also recorded in the Journal.

“When the floor was opened for questions and discussion, one unidentified listener commented that he thought the cost of the park was too high.

‘A guy gets in over his head and you can’t get him out.’

When asked about what kind of rules the park would have, (builder James) Orosco answered, ‘Very, very stringent rules.’

The man in the audience responded to the remark by saying: ‘Very stringent rules. That makes them come into town and do what they want. These kids will come into town and they all have their cigarettes in their pockets and they’re not Lucky Strikes.’

Mr. Orosco responded to the remark: ‘I disagree with every single thing you say.’”

The legitimate concerns

Supervisors focused on two substantial points, sometimes buried in lots of additional armchair quarterbacking. (We’ll get to that later.)

But even these are thin straws for rejection.

Concerns over flooding were rebutted in the final public hearing. And making Artois a population 1300 town –would that be good or bad? It’s hard to tell.

Recognizing that the project was going to be built in a floodplain, the county planning commission required the developer to provide flood protection through levees or fill.

The issue was then: won’t the neighbors get flooded?

An engineering consultant hired by Mr. Orosco reported that if the project was developed according to its recommendations, it “should not adversely affect flooding in the City of Artois [sic],” though “the 100-year flood elevations would be increased by as much as (1/4 foot) in a 1000-foot reach of Walker Creek downstream of County Road 33."

In other words, the worst flood every hundred years would be about three inches worse, for about a thousand feet of Walker Creek.

That hundred-year flood would be eight inches above the minimum road elevation, but planner Christy Leighton said that wouldn’t be a problem.

“Some water would flow back into the development,” she wrote. “But the flow can be prevented with a berm, which the developer promised to incorporate.”

In the hearing, advantage goes to the developer, who said that he already planned to rip-rap Walker Creek to avoid the problem.

Meanwhile, opponents’ lawyer Ken Hopkins looked rather foolish, charging that the plan didn’t show Mr. Orosco’s proposal, only to be rebutted by county engineer Tom Landon and admitting that he hadn’t read that part.

Then-and-now supervisor Keith Hansen recalls flooding being the primary concern – a memory not supported by the transcripts of the main hearing, in which supervisors focus at length on irrelevant concerns.

“If it flooded there, then the rest of the county would be paying for it,” Mr. Hansen says.

He recalls an incident when Highway 99 was covered with a foot of water.

“In response to a highway flooding, you call out the road department, the sheriffs. You don’t want to plan a facility” that will cause those sorts of impacts.

The project would have generated about $175,000 annually in property taxes, about $420,000 today and around one percent of the county’s budget. There’s no record of discussion on whether that money could offset possible effects like flooding.

The other relevant issue – what exactly the extra 1100 people would mean for – or do to – Artois was inconclusive. Still, at least one supervisor voted on that issue.

"There is little doubt that the proposed park will affect the social qualities of the Artois area,” planning director Ed Howard wrote to supervisors after the conflict-of-interest scandal broke.

“The growth-inducing impact on the Artois area will be significant and Artois may lose some of its "small town" characteristics. The mobile home park along will probably not bring additional people to the County, but will tend to concentrate some of the natural growth in one small area.”

But planner Ms. Leighton wasn’t overly concerned.

"Some of the existing neighborhood commercial areas in Artois could be developed or redeveloped,” she said, noting that “seventy years ago there was extensive commercial development in Artois.”

How much people were concerned is up for debate. Certainly, those opposed were vocal about it. Later Journal articles note their opposition. But an earlier Journal article notes the rather different flavor of a September 1980 town hall meeting in Artois:

“‘Let’s get the show on the road and get the little town of Artois back on the map.’

“That remark, made by Artois resident Frank Sousa, seemed to sum up the majority of comments made by Artois citizens” on the proposed park.

Western Modular Company circulated a petition in favor of the project that, they write in an accompanying document, garnered 75 signatures.

Today, Mr. Hansen says he “doesn’t recall” Artois people mad.

But to supervisor Jean Rumiano then, expressed concerns were essential.

“I find it very difficult to say, ‘Yes, I want to make Artois a big place,’” Ms. Rumiano said. “I have a hard time in my own conscience trying to come to terms with 426 units in a community the size of Artois.”

It was on that conviction, she said, that drove her to make a motion to block the development.

The armchair quarterbacking

But most of the issues supervisors raised were mere armchair quarterbacking.

That is, minding the developer’s business, instead of the county’s business.

What makes a legitimate concern?

“Pointing to something site-specific,” Mr. Sprague says. He gives examples: if sewer systems are insufficient and “you can’t guarantee the toilets will flush, or it will have adverse affect on an intersection, or it won’t have fire protection.”

What isn’t germane to a project’s approval or reject, Mr. Sprague says, are numerous miscellaneous details. A planning commissioner that doesn’t like the floor plans, or interest rates, or trying to do social engineering – going above zoning in imposing a personal vision on the county.

We read Mr. Sprague the supervisors’ quotes below, without naming names; his responses are in italics.

In the meeting that killed the park, then-district 4 supervisor Jean Rumiano aired at length two complaints. She represented neither as an overriding concern.

First, she said, there was no demand for mobile home parks. Moreover, after a calculation using 16.5 percent interest, she concluded: “what good is a mobile home park if nobody can afford to live there?”

That’s a developer’s concern,” Mr. Sprague says. “16.5 percent interest – you should have reasonable amount of confidence it wasn’t going to be forever. The state of the economy at the time, interest rates, that should be left to the developer.”

Three years before, interest rates had been at eight percent, and four years later, they would be again.

(Ms. Rumiano also briefly mentioned that she “feels better” about this project, because it was not going to be built on class I soils.

That’s a strange worry: putting the numbers in perspective, the project would create homes for 3 percent of the county’s population, by using 0.05 percent of the county’s farmland. Perspective, anyone?)

But while Ms. Rumiano seemed to think herself better able to judge the needs of mobile home residents than the developer, district 3 supervisor Fred Pride extended his area of expertise to the entire county housing market.

Before seconding Ms. Rumiano’s motion, Mr. Pride commented:

“In regard to a no project, I don’t feel that this project best serves the needs of our community. The overall future general housing needs of Glenn County might be best constructed in locations and in such manner as to better serve specific needs.”

That’s a real good example of someone doing the social engineering. That should be up to the developer.”

Moreover, Mr. Sprague says, it’s just an opinion.

If they can provide numbers that show no mobile homes, there are four mobile home parks within three miles, with 60 percent vacancies” – that would be a different thing.

I would say, Mr. Supervisor, you have to show me your facts and figures,” Mr. Sprague says. “Otherwise you’re just saying, ‘I don’t feel.’ ‘Statistics show’ or ‘history shows’ – but ‘I feel’?”

Mr. Supervisor, I don’t give a shit about how you feel. Forgive the expression.”

District 1 Supervisor Stephen Blacet followed Ms. Rumiano in divining the desires of potential residents, while also seeming to appoint himself county transportation commissioner.

‘The idea of a project is good,” Mr. Blacet began, making his only remarks in the hearing. (He spoke for less than a page, in a 55 page transcript of the discussion.)

But: “It is a fact that we are going to have to start and bring up the future of transportation in this County; I can see that this problem is getting bigger. There will be more demand. I only wish it were closer to a large city, either Orland or Willows.

“The use of the gasoline alone, energy, going nearly seven miles from Orland, probably the same distance from Willows every time anyone goes out, that is extra energy being used. The police and fire protection would be better, if they were closer to a big city.”

There’s a prime example of someone with a particular agenda,” says Mr. Sprague. “Someone’s concerned about energy conservation. That’s an opinion that they’re hanging their hat on, as opposed to a fact like ‘we need a traffic light.’ Distance concerns, fuel concerns – that’s not a germane argument.”

Immediately thereafter, he voted to deny the project – solely, it appears, on worries over how much residents would have paid for gas.

A detail that they would presumably be aware of when moving in. Especially because potential buyers, planning director Ed Howard said, would mostly be county residents – and thus familiar with the area.

And GlennRide started in xxxxx.

Mr. Hansen recalls a another points of concern, on which his memory seems to err: whether the county would have been stuck with a bill if the project folded.

“If we would have built it and the housing market would have changed, would we have had a lot of empty trailers?” Mr. Hansen asks. “Maybe we would have.”

At the time, asked what would happen if the development didn’t pan out, he took a more positive tack: “Well, you are going to have an awful lot of recreation facilities for nothing.”

And when asked why supervisors denied the project, Mr. Hansen doesn’t repeat any of the above reasons. He recalls the main problem at the time being flooding.

Other supervisors too, or just him?

Others were concerned “for the same reason,” he says. “Flooding and everything.”

That’s a legitimate concern,” Mr. Sprague comments, his voice rising as if he’s finally found a needle in a haystack.

Still, at least when examining the transcript, supervisors’ votes seemed to have been driven by far, far less relevant matters. Even Mr. Hansen: he was involved in the flooding discussion, but didn’t mention it in his conclusion before voting.

In fact, his concluding speech was all positive things about the project, and the developer. Mr. Hansen said only two things to the contrary: “I have to agree with all Jean (Rumiano) said” and his conclusion:

And the killer:

“I will not approve myself a 450 unit project, I would agree with a smaller project in that area, because I think that a smaller unit would then satisfy our needs in the county and that’s what we should be looking for, what is best for the county.”

That’s happened to him before, Mr. Sprague says. If current zoning allows 6 units to the acre, and he presents a project that has 5.5 to the acre, “so many times, you’ll still get an official that says, ‘That’s still too dense to me, I’d go with it, I’d go for 4 to the acre.’ And now, because of your own opinion, you’ve changed the threshold. They’re throwing in their opinion and an element of social engineering.”

...and the unfulfilled promise

Mr. Hansen preferred a 100 or 150-unit proposal.

“There is a need,” he said. “If we turn down this project, we have an obligation to develop alternatives.”

That didn’t happen. For one thing, less than 100 mobile homes were built total in the next five years in the entire county. Planning records from that time period show only 72 mobile home constructions in county limits.

(That doesn’t include inside city limits, but there has never been a mobile home park in Willows, and only 52 mobile home spaces exist inside today inside 1981 Orland city limits, making it unlikely 28 were built in a five-year period.)

And when the developer went along with Mr. Hansen’s suggestion, the developer and came back with a new project, the supervisors weren’t exactly jumping to make his life easier. He asked to use the environmental impact report from the bigger project, figuring any impact from a smaller project would be, well, smaller.

(The developer wasn’t happy about the smaller size, saying scale was essential to the project. The larger project would have included a community center with fenced pool, billiard room, card room, and conference room.)

But the supervisors denied this request too.

That, at least, wasn’t Mr. Hansen’s fault: he voted for Mr. Orosco’s request, so the pro-development side went down 2-3 instead of 1-4.

Western Modular’s frustration was obvious; it would soon bubble over into a lawsuit.

“During the 10 month period our application has been before the county, our opponents, including their attorney Mr. Kenneth M. Hopkins, have continually argued that the development should only be approved in a "scaled-down" version,” they wrote in their request.

And then when they asked to build the scaled-down project, the board wanted them to do extra leg work.

Mr. Hansen remembers the need for mobile housing today, as well.

“I did feel that we did need it at the time.”

“If we had built it, and the housing market would have changed, would we have had a lot of empty trailers? Maybe we would have had.”

That would be a bad thing, he opines.

The lone dissenter

Chairman George Edwards was the holdout, pleading unsuccessfully to his colleagues and to the packed supervisors’ chambers.

“There are certain things we would like to have happen. As Keith (Hansen) said, it would be nice if there were a smaller park. But you also have to remember that you have to have somebody who is willing to come in and do the developing. But we have to have someone willing to do it.”

In the end, he was on the short side of a 4-1 vote.

The shady scheme

The Artois mobile home project has gone down in local planning lore – for an unfortunate reason.

For his semi-shady dealings, planning director Ed Howard was fined $6,000 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and subsequently resigned at a closed session of the board of supervisors.

In 1979, Mr. Howard paid $10 for an option to purchase 121 acres of land adjacent to Interstate 5 near Artois.

On March 14, 1980, he traded that option exchange for a one-third share of the land, purchased by William and John G. Baker for $125,000, and on April 14, the trio signed a purchase contract to sell the property to Mr. Orosco for $525,000, contingent on the latter obtaining the necessary permits.

On May 21, Western Modular applied for a use permit for the mobile home park.

To avoid conflict of interest charges, on May 29, Mr. Howard formally transferred his share in the property to the Bakers, who on the same day transferred the entire property to Mr. Orosco.

"Mr. Howard realized in excess of $133,000 in profit on his investment of less than $42,000 in fewer than 90 days,” charged Willows lawyer Ken Hopkins, hired by local opponents to fight the park.

But Ed Howard took an active role in the planning process until – and didn’t shut up after – his financial dealings were uncovered.

He maintained that the deal was done, and he had no financial stake in the projects’ success, calling allegations against him a “witch hunt.”

He concluded one document written after the news broke: "by making this recommendation for approval, I am sincerely stating my beliefs as a professional planner...I have no financial or personal interest in the project."

Recalling the incident, a heavy note of annoyance comes into Mr. Hansen’s voice – as if he’s speaking about a misbehaving child that should have known better.

“I went over to his office three different times,” Mr. Hansen recalls. “Said to him, ‘you’ve got an interest in this.’ But he couldn’t help voicing his opinion. He was so happy he got involved in some sort of a deal.”

The aftermath: a lawsuit

Former county auditor Joe Sites recalls the views of disenchanted former county planning director John Benoit.

“John finally made it clear to me that county planning has nothing to do with planning,” Mr. Sites remembers. “He said it was just to avoid being sued.”

A basic criterion of planning success – but even that failed here.

Not withstanding Mr. Hansen’s complements to Mr. Orosco for his “character and strength” for the months the battle went on, the developer wasn’t happy.

Frustrated with spending $100,000 futilely in the development process, he paid more money to lawyers and sued for a rehearing, claiming the board of supervisors rejected the project capriciously.

Supervisors “made absolutely no findings with respect to (the) use permit application and the factual basis for the denial,” the lawsuit read. “The analytical processes of the board of supervisors are unknown to Petitioner.”

To this, the supervisors “denie(d) generally and specifically, conjunctively and disjunctively, each and every, all and singular, the allegations.”

Legal-speak – got to love it.

A court date was set for May 20, 1982 – over a year after the project was turned down. What happened is unclear; the court files cut off.

The project’s defeat motivated citizens to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.

At a later planning commission hearing, a “triumphant army” of 25 Artois residents marched out of the courthouse across the street to the planning department to request the property’s rezoning, with Helen Mathison collecting $5, $10, and $20 bills to pay for the $250 application fee.

The success of that operation is unknown. Attempts have been made since to develop it; in 1987 county Planning Director Danny Mao tried to get it the area rezoned commercial to encourage highway businesses. But residents again argued flooding.

“The biggest flood zone is between (Highway) 99 and I-5,” Artois resident Bernard Kaiser told Mr. Mao. “You haven’t been there in a long time.”

Today, the property still sits there, growing crops. Mr. Sprague says that for the last three years, it’s been in the hands of a developer. They’re creating a master plan for the area.

It could have been a big plus for the county.

Consider: what impact does the construction of housing for 1100 people have on everyone else?

Secondary effects are purely speculatory: whether more housing would have attracted jobs that didn’t appear, or deterred construction that did occur, so we’ll disregard them.

But there are direct effects. Simply put: more housing means cheaper rents for everyone.

To measure how much rents would fall, economists have a term called “price elasticity of demand.”

Basically, that means: if supply increases by 1 percent, by what percent does price fall? Very conservatively, we’ll estimate that figure as 0.75 percent for Glenn County.

(You can read more about how we got that figure in the story, “What does new housing do?” on page ***give a page number*****)

457 houses would be 4.28 percent of the houses in Glenn County.

4.28 percent times 0.75 is 3.2 percent.

Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Glenn County was $439 per month in 2006.

Multiplying, 3.2 percent times $458 is $14.09 per month.

So if the Artois mobile home project appeared, ready-built on the land tomorrow, that’s how much the average renter would save.

Once a month. Every month.

It’s good to know the supervisors look out for the Glenn County underclass.

Summary: (box this)
What? An 1100-person mobile home park proposed on a parcel north of Artois.
Who? Proposed by San Jose-based developer James Orosco
When? 1980
So what? If built today, it would lower rents by at least $15 per month for the average one-bedroom apartment in Glenn County.
For: Some local merchants, some Artois residents wanting to put the town back on the map.
Against: Very vocal Artois residents, who wanted the town kept small.
Killed by: Four supervisors: Keith Hansen, Jean Rumiano, Fred Pride, Stephen Blacet.