Amaya Rain

Wife. Mother. Crazy woman.

Bad Bedfellows.

The town where I grew up – let’s call it The Town – has always had a bit of a bad reputation. It is a place that is dependent upon oil for nearly its entire economy. So of course, there are tons of transients living in this area so that they can make good money either working offshore or working on oilfield support of one kind or another. A good chunk of these are single men, aged 25-50, probably over 1/3 are Mexican. Then you have the old families – black, white, American Indian – who have lived here for generations. Then there is a large Vietnamese population that showed up in the 1970’s because apparently the environment here is similar to their home, and back then, there were good work opportunities.

Back in the 1970’s, the nearby city – The City – looked down upon this area. The people were rural people, or the transients, and it was the classic “city v. country” type mentality. The County pretty much neglected The Town when it came to, oh, just about anything. We had no real zoning, so you had generational houses right next door to shipyards or heliports. Trailer parks – badly managed ones, at that – sprouted up everywhere. The Vietnamese, bless their hearts, stayed in a three-block square of houses, with several generations living in each home (although I know that was tradition, I really think that part of it had to do with not wanting to be stuck with the other bad housing trends).

In the 80’s, there was The Oil Crash. There was no work. Lots of the transients left, but the locals grew poorer, and their children moved into the unkempt trailer parks. Then oil and shipbuilding picked up… and here we are.

So, finally, The County hired someone to check out the possibility of zoning restrictions in The Town. Of course, the only reason this was done was because many people owned undeveloped property near a new interstate extension that they wanted to  manage according to their own wants (the rest of The County depends on oil/shipbuilding revenue and tourism, pretty much exclusively). Of course, the zoning restrictions were pretty much a hodge-podge of what already existed, other than zoning that prime undeveloped Interstate extension land as commercial. Anywhere in The Town, you can have a business open up right next to a house which is right next to a trailer which is right next to an RV park.

Make things even better, and companies from out of the area are contracting workers to companies In Town, and buying these falling apart trailers, putting 8 guys in one – mostly Mexican, but not all – and calling it a “boarding house.”

Now you have the background.

There is a County Planning and Zoning Commission. Problem is, the County’s council members have decided that P&Z should have no power of their own. At all. Should someone disagree with P&Z’s decision, they can go to the Council and get it overturned (and they usually do). Then, if they don’t anyone’s decision, they can just go ahead and do whatever they want to do, because The Council didn’t bother to give P&Z, or even themselves, any penalties for going against a ruling. No fines, no having to tear it down or move it, no jail time, nothing. They can do nothing.

Recently, a woman tore down a blighted house on her property, and started moving small FEMA-sized RV trailers onto it. The surrounding neighbors protested, P&Z ruled against her, and she was to only leave one RV on the property (personal use) and use the remainder of the property to either build a new house or put a mobile home there. She got mad. Then she put three more RV’s on the property. Now, we’re talking a lot that’s maybe 100×100. And no one can do anything.

So now, that brings us to The Jerk. I’ve known The Jerk and his family my entire life. His brother was almost my godfather. My father was friends with the whole family, and my grandfather and The Jerk’s father owned land together, drank together, and engaged in friendly rivalry their entire lives. Well… The Jerk had some land and decided that it was time that The Town had a nice, quiet subdivision. It consisted really only of one long road, near the local Catholic Church. He sold the land, and people built houses ranging from about $120k to $250k – now, honestly, these are houses that anywhere else would go for $250-$400k, easily. People bought up land, started building, feeling like all their work had been for something. The neighborhood was restricted, therefore no trailers could ever be moved in to decrease property value. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but believe me, this had never been done before in The Town.

So, a couple of years later, what does The Jerk do? He decides that selling the property isn’t generating enough income. So. On his property that backs up this subdivision, he builds an RV park to provide “housing” for the transient workers. Granted, so far, a lot of the folks that he has there seem to be decent guys, they aren’t living with several men to a trailer, and there hasn’t been any increase in crime in that area. This is all good. But the existing RV’s are far enough from the houses (think the distance of a block or so) that there isn’t an issue.

Now, he wants to expand. The expansion basically puts RV’s in practically the backyard of these nice houses in a restricted subdivision. What? And the worst part is that he still owns the last several lots on the road… so should he decide to expand out there, he can. He tried telling these people that having a transient RV park next to their houses wouldn’t lower their property values. He also insists that he’ll never have a problem with crime, even though he doesn’t do background checks, there is no fence around the property, and there is no security (oh, should I add that right now, there is one sheriff patrolling the entire Town at any particular time, day or night? Yeah.).

The neighbors are livid. The P&Z voted him down, and when he took it to The Council, they deferred a decision. Thing is, everyone against it went to the meeting – and they’ll have to continue going to all the meetings because The Council can bring the issue back up anytime they want.

So the Jerk is trying to reach a compromise. What kind of compromise? He says he’ll think about building a fence, maybe doing background checks. But inevitably it doesn’t matter, he says, because “business leaders” are on his “side” and he has “supporters” just like P&Z has. Wait, P&Z doesn’t have supporters. P&Z is trying to support what is best for the community.

When I said to him, “Why don’t you invest in trying to build real housing, or try to bring some other business to the area?” Oh no. Can’t do that. Because “we don’t have as much money as people think we have, just land” and “lot height requirements have gone up too much to make that economical” and my favorite, “Well, we’re going to do things like that once The New Road opens up,” (a new road being built through his other property, that The County will LEASE from him) “but that’s the New [Town], we’re talking about the old [Town].” So, the entire town will still be going to hell in a handbasket, because you and local businessmen and local politicians don’t feel like bothering with it. So, it’s easier to just make the rest of The Town even worse than before, rather that helping to build it up so that it’s a safe place for younger families to come to and help build the economy. So, the only new business that will come will be on your other land near the interstate, something that won’t help out Town Citizens, but will be added to the coffers of The County and ultimately the The City, right?

He didn’t answer me.

I’m mad. It’s been a couple of days, and I’m still very, very mad. I keep saying that if I had money (I’m talking lottery-type money), I’d leave this place in a heartbeat. And I probably would… but mainly because I want a lot of acreage, and this area doesn’t have that. But I’d like to think that I’d begin to buy up the blighted property in the area, rebuild or remodel the improvements on the property, and sell it for a reasonable price so that new families – not just companies who cram men into houses – could afford it and be comfortable. Then I’d try to work to build a local economy, trying to fill in the gaps that we have around here. For instance, there aren’t any local farmer’s markets, organic food sources, nice shopping boutiques, hell, there isn’t even a Starbucks (not that I mind that, because I don’t like Starbuck’s business practices, but still, who doesn’t have a Starbucks!)

I need to go. The twins they are a’calling me. I just needed to vent. I look around and see so much potential for The Town, and to know that even people who have lived here their whole lives, watched this town die for a decade because of the lack of diversity, and watched The City and The County take every penny we’ve made and spend it on themselves instead of us, how someone who has seen that could just not only let it keep happening, but be a source of it.

I’m mad. And I just can’t do anything about it.

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February 28, 2007 - Posted by | Common Sense, Musings, Politics

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