Tuesday, July 01, 2008

‘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.”

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