Inside look at
first 50 Years of
Mount Shasta Vista:
1965 - 2015
Informal history of one-time recreational camp's
futile efforts to evolve into standard community...
or barest facsimile thereof
Inside look at
first 50 Years of
Mount Shasta Vista:
1965 - 2015
Informal history of one-time recreational camp's
futile efforts to evolve into standard community...
or barest facsimile thereof
by Stuart Ward
Tweaked June 2023
Note: This seven part writing has nothing to do with Stewart Mineral Springs, which independent blog/watchdog site it's under. It's about writer's longtime home front, 20 miles from the Springs, and needed a home is all.
Shorter versions of parts 1, 2 and 3 first published
in now-zombied Mt. Shasta Herald on September 22 and 29, 2021
* * *
The once sleepy, 50 year-old backwoods subdivision of Mount Shasta Vista underwent a radical sea change starting in 2015. While the would-be rural community had long before jumped down the rabbit hole, it was then to discover even greater depths as a haven for unsanctioned commercial cannabis grows. The following insider retrospective explores where the place was coming from leading up to that momentous year. It hopes to explain why it, well, went to pot...on so many levels. It blends a crazy-quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences and semi-informed or better analysis of how the place derailed so spectacularly...and why the beleaguered realm has been hard-pressed to ever find some saving grace.
Ward, Vista resident since 1978, has served as volunteer owner board member and co-started an ephemeral official Vista website, online from 2012 to 2014. In 1984 he hosted a rainbow family camp on his land.
He still brakes for road litter.
"...the past is never truly past...it is always tugging up both
its treasures and its tragedies and carrying them insistently into the future."
- Margaret Renkl
Wilderness condo, anyone?
The rustic wooden archway spanning the highway entrance off Juniper Drive bore the words “Mt. Shasta Vista” in hand-scrolled, unfinished wood lettering. Surrounded by inviting trees on either side, visitors driving under it might've felt they were perhaps entering some enchanted rustic realm.
The welcoming sign and trees, both long gone, imparted a certain grace to the entrance of the rural development begun in the mid 1960s; one felt the love and attention going into its creation. The touch showed how earliest property owners -- then only visiting summers from distant cities -- held endearing affection for their new-found vacation lands secreted away in the high desert foothills below volcanic Mount Shasta's northwestern slope.
In time the place -- some 15 miles from both Weed and Grenada -- would struggle to segue from simple recreational land beginnings into a functional if sparse residential community. This despite the almost total absence of infrastructure that city dwellers took for granted. This lack, perhaps more than anything, kept it from ever making a successful transformation to any sort of 'normal', functioning community.
Instead, soon after a short-lived building period of a handful of fully code-approved homes in the early 1970s, it would shift into a kind of permanent, bizarre limbo land, becoming an incongruous mix of full-on legal residences and modest, decidedly non-code shelters. As a result the place was in perennial hot water with the local powers that be -- and the community at large, which regarded it as an undesirable place to live.
Not to mention, at war with itself.
That the shared vacation lands originally hadn't aspirations to be anything more was indicated by its simple CC&Rs --and by its association status: it was a POA, or Property Owners Association, not an HOA, or Home Owners Association. Just a Good Sam’s Club of sorts out in the boonies. An unassuming rural development, offering weary city dwellers a world of private campgrounds. A sea of turn-key wilderness condos, if you will.
No water, no electricity, no sewage system. No gas lines, no paved roads, no community center. No parks, no playgrounds. No nothing except lots of lots -- 1,641 of them -- and a labyrinthine, 66-mile network of modest cinder roads and signage to access them all.
Called 'ranch roads' by the developer, they were fragile, modest affairs built up of loose rock substrate over often deep sandy soil with a local volcanic red cinder gravel topping. They were never designed to regularly withstand heavy loads or frequent or fast traffic. A 15 miles-per-hour speed limit was set to help preserve them, plus keep the backwoods' relaxed, tranquil atmosphere intact. Ongoing maintenance was covered by an annual mandatory-membership property assessment, informally called road dues.
The realm was situated a few miles uphill and east of the exurb of Lake Shastina. The majority of its lots were between one and five miles off the blacktop. On the many parcels situated furthest from its five highway entrances, it could feel more like fifty, due to the land's profound quietude.
The 1,640 lots averaged 2-½ acres each and were flung over seven square miles of mostly juniper trees and sagebrush land, with a scattering of tall pine. It spanned nearly six miles between furthest points: Pilar Road and Perla Drive in section 13, to Trails End Road and Rising Hill Road in southernmost section 28.
The fledgling development flanked national forest on several borders. Square-mile sections were platted into two giant clumps separated by a mile of Bureau of Land Management land, with the county highway running between the second, smaller clump of sections 23 and 13, near Pluto Caves and Sheep Rock respectively.
As so often happened in rural subdivisions, the developers conjured up whimsical road names to tickle the fancy of potential vacation land buyers. They bore evocative names like Lost Mine Road, Zane Gray Drive and Happy Lane. One perhaps harked back to a classic movie line: Rosebud Lane. Another was humorous: Frankie Lane. A few were named after saints, as in St. George Drive and St. Mary Road, perhaps giving the development the air of being an unlikely Catholic camp retreat. Two, Collins Drive and McLarty Road, were named after the developer and his main man.
Born amid controversy,
place was instant problem child
The place officially gave birth on November 3, 1965*, brainstorm of Los Angeles area developer George Collins on land he purchased from the pioneering Martin family that had long laid claim to much of the wider area. Longtime locals had been grazing livestock on the land forever, and the region was deemed among the best hunting in the county for over a century. Before white settlers, Indians seasonally hunted through here; the writer found a complete obsidian arrowhead on his parcel the first week.
The story went that when one Martin family member had sold the vast acreage to Collins, he hadn't first gotten permission from the others; they were more than a little ticked at him over the commercial nonsense suddenly afoot on their now-lost holding, No doubt they aired their grievances to the region's residents, likely building up community displeasure clear into the halls of local government that resulted in a flinty blanket condemnation of the embryonic development -- years before respectable lot owners had ever aspired to try seguing it into an exclusive residential retirement hideaway.
* According to date formal paperwork was filed and time-stamped in Siskiyou county courthouse. This date was used rather than earlier, yet to be filed, date of incorporation, August 18, 1965.
Locals grumbled over how their informal backwoods hunting, camping and grazing haven was suddenly closed off, just so a bunch of vacationing city folk could lollygag about in their fancy Airstreams a few weeks a year.
Adding to the festering controversy: the county board of supervisors, some likely having sided with the influential aggrieved Martin family members and incensed locals, reportedly almost denied greenlighting its formation. For the record, the hesitation was over the lack of water and often rocky, volcanic land that couldn't always support conventional septic systems, should owners ever want to build on their lots.
An already contentious situation was well on its way to snowballing out of control.
Then... a few years later, a handful of adventurous owners, smitten by the place as a nice one to retire at, indeed began settling on the land. Each dutifully drilled an approved well, got power lines extended and installed a regulation septic system, thus supplying all their own infrastructure needs, before even beginning to build homes to code. In the meantime most lived elsewhere. On the surface it looked as though the place was on its way to becoming a respectable (if ultra sparsely settled) rural community...
...until, soon after, less solvent people -- likewise attracted to the unspoiled land and irresistibly low parcel prices -- started moving in on the cheap, intent on ignoring codes and regulations, almost before the ink on the paperwork was dry.
That's when all hell really broke loose.
The place's already gnarly spirit, first from outside forces and now from within as well, went into warp drive as dutifully code-compliant residents went unhinged. The snowball was growing to such monstrous proportions it was almost as if some demonic force had taken hold of the place, destined to forever bedevil the would-be-tranquil realm.
Between teeth-gnashing code-compliant residents on the warpath over non-compliant dwellers; rebellious non-compliant residents taking the heat and kicking back; disillusioned absentee parcel holders feeling stuck with lots they could by then neither use nor sell without taking a loss; put-upon county authorities in time giving up even trying to enforce health and building codes; and an embittered farming/ranching community viewing the place's inhabitants with jaundiced eye through distorted, fun-house mirrors...add these together and the place never had (you knew it was coming) a snowball's chance in hell.
A vexatious spirit came to infect the rustic realm like an incurable disease. A contentious force field hovered over the would-be serene, high desert woodlands like so many storm clouds, forever threatening to rain on the parade of all, code-legal and non-compliant alike.
No matter how many future residents dedicated themselves to try turning things around and salvaging the development's early promise, the place would never be more than a stalled-out recreational development that abysmally failed to transition into any sort of standard community
It became "road kill" in realtors' colorful parlance.
Down the rabbit hole
It appeared the more free-wheeling, non-compliant dwellers soon populating the place jumped down a rabbit hole into their own private world that the rarefied land energies could so easily inspire. Soon enjoying wild Mad Hatter tea parties all but oblivious to the outside world and its innumerable regulations, they dismissed as impotent ravings the rants of the Red Queen, in the guise of the all but powerless property owners' board and its supporters, screaming away, "They'll build to code or it's off with their heads!"
Continuing with the Alice in Wonderland analogy: Standing in for both the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat was, again, the stony spiraling vortex energies of massive Mount Shasta. The place, clinging to its very foothills and a half hour from any town's influence, seemed fully under its surreality-inducing sway.
According to one definition, an energy vortex is "A place on earth that acts as a hub for energy...believed to exist at the intersection of ley lines, or lines of natural energy, that make up the earth's electromagnetic energy field." While some new-age thinkers even went so far as to claim Mount Shasta was either the crown or third-eye chakra of the entire planet, most everyone agreed that, at the least, indeed emanated some palpable, mysterious, powerful energy.
Being so much under the mountain's influence seemed to induce some pretty wild fantasies, if not outright hallucinations, all but erasing from mind any pesky notions of society's conventional binding rules. When such mundane-world obliterating propensities and resulting non-code living scenes cropped up in the Vista, code-compliant dwellers (obviously having resisted the mountain's siren song) saw their fledgling uptown-rustic dream community in grave peril. If they didn't scramble to stem the tide and demand the county enforce its own health and building codes, all would be lost...their nascent rustic retirement village gone with the wind. So, at the Red Queen's behest, they summoned the Card Soldiers in the guise of the county's health and building departments -- sometimes accompanied by a deputy should a situation threaten to be gnarly -- to restore law and order in the by then beleaguered wonderland.
Over time their last ditch struggle to save the place proved a dismal losing battle. Eventually, residency code enforcement efforts were all but abandoned by county authorities and the stunned code-compliant were left gnashing their teeth, devastated over the county's seeming inability and/or unwillingness to enforce its own regulations.
So, despite what had appeared to be a auspicious start as a popular shared vacation land, and, soon after, a respectable rural retirement enclave, the slew of parcels ended up becoming a messy, oil-and-water mix of code-approved homes and 'outlaw' dwellings. Plus the occasional die-hard camping retreat visitor hoping to avoid downer politics and simply enjoy the place as originally intended.
It was now snared between worlds, skitzy in purpose, and an unwanted child lacking 'parental' support from the county to boot. The Vista became frozen in time, left nursing a serious identity crisis and denied ever finding any rightful place in the sun.
Emboldened by realm's remoteness
Despite such a daunting load of handicaps, some, again, predating the very first trickle of campers -- and beyond the hopeful investors feeling stuck with the still-born development, disinterested speculators hoping to make a fast buck and those content to simply camp on their lots now and then -- beyond all these, parcels did prove irresistible to various land-hungry people. Especially those on a tight budget, looking for cheap land to live on the country. If 'between homes', immediately. While some, like writer, would (grudgingly) conform to code, others, blissfully ignorant, held more of a "What code? You're kidding, right?" attitude.
Succeeding waves of the latter felt emboldened by three things: the place's remoteness, which made it feel like its own little kingdom, somehow far removed from more prosaic realities; its mostly abandoned original purpose, which created enough confusion, chaos and uncertainty to take easy advantage of; and, over time, the lack of sustained residential code enforcement by the county, despite a solid core of code-compliant dwellers and an all but powerless property owners board forever screaming bloody murder.
Some casual owner-builders -- labeled "code violators", "illegal residents" and, eventually, perhaps the unkindest cut, 'squatters' -- first moved in with a casual air of "Hey, what's the big deal? we're just building a little shelter for ourselves on our own land out in the middle of nowhere; c'mon." In time, knowing something of the place's code-conformity battle but also of a increasingly spotty enforcement, other newbies went on full offensive, moving into unconnected trailers and mobile homes or building ramshackle shelters with a brazen attitude of "Hee, hee, what're you goin' to do about it, huh?" Or like a screaming eagle: "Hey, this was still America the last time I checked; this is my land and I'll do whatever I damn well please on it; back the hell off."
Eventually, non-code construction became more or less epidemic. Unconventional structures seemed to spring up like mushrooms after a drenching rain. Some dwellings were artful, others decidedly void of charm. It was as though the place's residents were time-warping back to the pioneer era's wild west days when great plains settlers built primitive earth-sheltered soddies and forest settlers threw together basic log cabins. As if late in the twentieth century the development had magically become some new frontier, far removed from modern times and all its dratted, spirit-stifling regulations over how one was expected to live on their own land.
Eventually, certain scofflaws -- feeling light years removed from responsive law enforcement save for more serious matters (a 45 minute wait time being not uncommon, if arriving at all) -- would essentially deem themselves a law unto themselves.
Buy in Haste...
No doubt many impulsive first buyers among those interested in actually using the land were, at best, only vaguely aware of the place's sundry handicaps and liabilities, any number of which would turn off your more circumspect land shopper. They were giddy over the prospect of getting such a generous-sized piece of unspoiled woodlands in such a popular recreational region at such a dirt cheap price. Eureka! It was almost the modern day equivalent of history's Forty acres and a Mule. The parcels proved so irresistible, any normally felt need for due diligence simply flew out the window; parcels were snapped up like so many bargain basement steals. Before the place's disheartening realities at last percolated into one's grey matter, sundry new owners spun out excited dreams and schemes of how they'd enjoy their new secluded woodlands so nicely hidden away, beyond modern times' slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
It appeared that many buyers, given the choice rural location and low prices, were willing to make generous allowances for the almost total absence of infrastructure. While this presented little or no problem during the opening years of exclusive camping and simple retreat use, trailers being self-contained and one briefly making like a bear in the woods otherwise, it was flirting with sure disaster when would-be residents rolled the dice and began settling on snapped-up parcels without seeking anyone's approval beyond their own. In proceeding to establish primitive seasonal camps and year-round ramshackle dwellings, lacking (among countless other things) any approved hygienic means of waste disposal, the pedigree of the Vista began its precipitous decline as a standard living community.
Onerous building code & the owner-builder
Unsanctioned buildings soon flourished. More and more buyers bent on settling on their lots appeared to lack the resources and/ or willingness to build anything to code. Freer spirits considered building requirements ridiculously over-complicated, needlessly intrusive and exorbitantly costly. As if, some might've felt, they perhaps only reflected the cushy living standard of the more affluent strata of society, who imperiously demanded everyone dance to their tune or face most unpleasant consequences. But hoping to avoid such stringent codes -- and the inflated lifestyles of would-be upward mobiles tempted to live beyond their means and drowning in debt -- was often the very reason so many people moved into the Vista in the first place: to get back to basics, to live more simply, within one's means, debt-free. (What a concept.)
After all, it was one thing to have some reasonable guidelines in place to keep flimsy owner-built structures from blowing over in the first strong wind and to ensure critical hygienic standards, another to insist one living on their own land out in the middle of nowhere to overbuild by a safety factor of five, install double-glazed windows, super-insulate roof, install fire sprinkler system...
In the 1970s, there was an effort led by a group of outraged Mendocino county, CA rural owner-builders to establish less onerous building requirements. It resulted in then-governor Jerry Brown approving a Class K housing bill specifically with such rural owner-builders in mind. But it got so watered down in 1981 by an apparently construction industry-friendly assembly that it was left to each county to adopt it or not. Only three did; Siskiyou county wasn't one. Its building department, at home in dealing with contractors who knew the drill in their sleep, was often owner-builder hostile, not wanting to hold the hand or guide rank amateur builders in the myriad ways needed to conform to the quagmire of regulations and specifications. They assumed -- not always without reason, given the code's impossibly elaborate, pricey guideline standards -- that many who were only reluctantly conforming owner-builders would try to 'cheat the code' at every turn.
While such draconian requirements greatly discouraged earlier, would-be compliant builders, in later times, with the one-time iron grip of society's old order starting to weaken, the scofflaw attitude emerged to build your rural shelter however you fancied, not even thinking of first getting mother-may-I county permission on approval. (Though on a much smaller scale, in some circles it became almost as popular as playing "cops and growers" in much later years.) Bound and determined to live on their bought-and-paid-for property and figuring possession was nine-tenths of the law, such Vistans' attitude was "Hey, this is my property and I'll do whatever I want on it; go jump in a lake if you don't like it."
...regret at leisure
As the place's assorted problems became painfully clear to Vista parcel holders, an intense love-hate relationship with their lots emerged. Especially among those relative few who hoped to actually settle on their properties. It was "Buy in haste, regret at leisure", a sad, familiar song: lured by the rural development's cheap parcels, the buyer, if wanting to make any more ambitious use of the place than just camp up to 30 days a year, realized the lack of infrastructure would require a small fortune to get them legal to live on.
For the very same reason the lots became an albatross around the necks of investors, speculators and vacationers. Their holdings were longer exclusive, dedicated recreational properties once homes went up around them, and so they were unable to sell them at a profit to anyone knowing the score. It didn't take much sussing to learn. One had only to talk to a typical walking wounded resident. Their ears might soon be singed as the disenchanted party, warming to their task, raked the place over the coals with almost demonic intensity.
It was a buyer remorse pattern destined over time to be repeated by thousands.
The subtle magic and simplicity of an affordable tranquil backwoods under the protective presence of a magical mountain, feeling worlds away from noisy, over-wound city living, kept grabbing both new would-be residents and new investors, the latter thinking to flip the parcels and move them up the food chain. It kept blinding the former to the more mundane concerns, like the one-time strictly enforced residency code requirements...til out of the blue, it bit them on the ass and they joined the chorus of bitterly disillusioned land buyers.
Lots sold themselves
In fairness to the developer, the parcels were originally offered only as primitive camp lands, nothing more. It was all upfront and legal. They were simple places of retreat for weary city dwellers wanting to rough it a bit and enjoy a private refuge on their own bit of relatively unspoiled nature every now and then. Developer Collins maybe sensed he needn't invest any more time, money or effort into the project than he did in order to move the lots, creating a simple wilderness retreat, each lot with well-maintained road access and platted to a fare-thee-well, corner boundaries marked by pounded red steel pipe and nearby, ribboned lathe sticks with scrawled bearings.
If so, he was right. It appeared the enthusiasm over the chance to spend summers amid the solitude of one's own affordable woodlands, majestic Mt. Shasta watching over the scene big as life, proved contagious. So much so that with the help of a little sizzling ad copy the lots practically sold themselves.
But the spiel naturally attracted others. Arguably the majority snapped up the parcels primarily as investments, if not in outright speculation, imagining others -- but not them, thank you -- would in due course be clamoring to personally enjoy such properties. Some might've decided to sample their 'wilderness time-shares' a time or two before trying to sell them at an handsome profit down the road once the development grew in popularity.
Again, no infrastructure besides a reliable nearby water source was really needed to fulfill the place's original purpose. Various owners, though a tiny minority, did in fact buy the lots to actually use and enjoy themselves. They were psyched at the prospect of roughing it on their own backwoods parcels and came to revel in the realm's pronounced peace and quiet and charm of a yet mostly intact backwoods ecosystem. Maybe they saw in them something to leave their kids or grandkids.
As far as things went, everything appeared hunky dory. It was easy to be completely unaware of the festering, behind the scene controversy brewing over its very creation and the locals' abiding ax-grinding resentment of the place in their backyard now crimping their long-time, sleepy rural lifestyle.
One had the convenience and luxury of camping on their own bit of unspoiled nature for free up to 30 days a year, rather than pay someone daily to camp, others maybe setting up twenty feet away with a passel of squalling kids. A mini-movement was afoot -- many coming from the Los Angeles region, but also from the Bay Area and Central Valley -- buyers pitching tents and rolling in travel trailers to the region's inviting seclusion, fresh air and seasonally balmy climate.
The terrain was high desert woodlands. Though powerful fall and winter windstorms could prove treacherous, the place seasonally had an enviable banana belt climate with delightful springs and falls. Summers were hot, but there were plenty of junipers trees and a few scattered pines for inviting shade. Lucky residents of the west end of section 7 were only a modest hike away from a cross-country canal to cool off in. In hot weather the mountain’s spectacular northern glacier-clad side did wonders keeping one feeling cooler just by gazing at its chilled splendor.
"Bye 'n' bye" came fast
Significantly, it seemed developer Collins couldn't resist throwing out the idea of the wooded parcels maybe being nice places to retire to "bye 'n' bye." He relayed this very notion in passing in the official Vista newsletter that was periodically sent to every member and avidly read by the new owners of their brand spanking new, low-key wilderness parcels, tucked away at the central top of the golden state, regal crown of Mount Shasta majestically watching over.
Since practically next door Lake Shastina would spring up a couple years later, initially as a second-home community, it assured that bye 'n' bye wouldn’t be long at all. It gave a handful of so-minded Vistan landholders impetus to follow suit -- with a twist: building structures not as second residences but, as Collins suggested, primary-residence retirement dwellings.
Like Lake Shastina, it usually got far less snow than nearby Weed and the City of Mt. Shasta in the region's crazy-quilt of micro-climates. Just enough to enjoy a winter wonderland now and then without getting a sore back and frostbitten hands shoveling snow or having to put on chains to get out on never-plowed roads. (Long ago they tried plowing after rare heavy snowfalls; the equipment blade tore up the cinder roadbeds so badly, requiring expensive and laborious repair work, that it proved impractical.)
Con su permiso:
dealing with the building code
Of course it was understood it'd be on each would-be resident to shell out to get power lines extended to the lot, drill an approved well and install an approved septic system -- all before the county would ever deign to issue a building permit on submission and approval of exacting plans that met all code requirements. Only then did it allow one the option of living on their land in an onsite trailer or shed during the construction period. (While work was expected to advance "in a timely manner", the writer stretched out his own building over three years.)
Only then would the post office assign the lot a legal street address and enable receiving mail at the blacktop entrance boxes, such address being needed for such things as obtaining a state driver's license, registration to vote, and qualify for FedEx, UPS and others to make home deliveries.
The extensive health and building codes included exacting details of a permanent foundation; framing method, with itemization down to the grade and variety of lumber and size, type and spacing and specific kind and size of fasteners; minimum structure size; electrification, insulation, full kitchen facilities,indoor plumbing... Any unconventional design like a geo-dome, cob home or earth-sheltered residence, required hiring a qualified engineer to certify the submitted plan was structurally sound and met all requirements. Most early Vista owner-builders, having hired others to do most or all the construction, didn't move on their properties until after the houses were completed and given official county blessing by being signed off after a final inspection and duly 'green-tagged'.
While the Uniform Building Code had been around in the U.S. since 1915, enforcement was no doubt relaxed to nonexistent in rural areas a long while. Primary focus was, naturally, first on crowded cities with their close-packed structures built by detached contractors who'd never live in their creations and were often tempted to take shortcuts that could result in tragedy in dissatisfaction or even tragedy by their eventual inhabitants.
Out in the country, property owners could still leisurely build their own cabins and cottages to suit themselves, even play it by ear to their heart's content, the overall design emerging only half-way through, if then. But with bureaucratic regulations' tendency to be adopted by ever greater numbers over time (some might say spreading like a cancer), until victoriously universalized, authorities at last came to insist that the same exhaustive guidelines be followed even deep in the furthest reaches of sparsely populated, mostly rural Siskiyou County on one's own land out in the middle of nowhere.
Priced to move
Parcels were priced to move. Writer seems to remember reading how they went for between $750. and $975. each (in 1969 dollars; worth almost twice the 2023 dollar), depending on parcel size, location and land features. The developer had relatively low overhead and wasn't out to get rich off the project. He was already successful from urban developments and so could afford to be generous. He appeared to hold a genuine affection for the place and likely wanted the lot prices to be a feel-good bargain. Overhead was minimal. There were no steep infrastructure costs beyond putting in and maintaining red cinder roads, many traced over preexisting logging and hunting roads; erecting entrance and section-corner signs; and planting short, 4X4 inch, wooden road sign posts with stenciled lettering, many soon camouflaged amid fast-growing sagebrush.
No doubt all kinds of first-generation buyers had purchased the lots for all kinds of reasons. But countless would snap them up in pure speculation: "Hey, they're not making any more land." Again, many would never camp on them, some probably never even see them. Though others were psyched at the prospect of enjoying their own private campground and/or maybe saw them as something to enjoy on retirement, arguably the overwhelming majority were just betting on the place. They anticipated making out like bandits once the place grew, maybe becoming something like a giant KOA-style camp village, loaded with amenities and services, attracting a flood of vacationing campers who'd be tickled over the idea of owning such (by then) popular recreational properties by fabled Mount Shasta.
That or, as instead happened, the place segued into a de facto rural community...one that might've actually succeeded and thrived, indeed driving up parcel prices, had every would-be resident taken responsibility for meeting their own infrastructure needs and built to code.
That obviously didn't happen. It was something that could only be done by people flush with cash from selling city homes, having a big savings nest egg, or a willingness (and eligibility) to take on a major debt load -- along with, of course, the mindset to deal with the time-consuming, hoop-jumping bureaucratic process. Perhaps understandably, the plan didn't get a ringing endorsement from the less solvent -- many of whom wanted to move onto their new lots immediately -- instant homesteads -- or duh, why else buy them? They maybe only had enough to cover the modest down and score some aging mobile home or trailer, maybe throw up a makeshift shelter on the fly from scrap lumber and call it okey dokey.
It seemed cheap land and cheap shelters could go together.
Of course, earliest investors never anticipated this major wrinkle of a soon-to-emerge epidemic of noncompliance. Between hearing about code-legal homes springing up and developer Collins talking up a rosy picture over the place's future, they might've assumed everyone would build to code.
Convinced they'd made a smart investment, they'd sit back and wait for parcel values to take off.*
* They only have to wait a half century. Parcel values finally went through the roof starting in 2015. Values of unimproved lots would skyrocket from $5,000 to over $150,000 by 2021, following both the national red-hot realty market plus the place's discovery by underground growers anticipating California legalizing recreational pot and what proved to be largely unenforceable laws, with slap-on-the-wrist consequences if caught. Lots would be selling like crazy for reasons totally unrelated to any infrastructure build-up, still almost nil, or anticipated new, formal development plans.
The startling phenomenon seemed in keeping with the extreme boom-bust nature of the place. One that -- due to factors beyond the scope of this writing -- caused unimproved lot prices to plummet back down by 2022, when they might again find few takers at even $10,000 to 20,000. ("Price reduced $80,000.") The place's extreme boom-bust nature could be likened to a bone-dry desert that got a brief flash flood every decade or two, a deluge of land-hungry people and/or cagey speculators descending on the region, driving up prices or trying to, then the land and its market returning to its normal, bone-dry conditions.
In the Vista's late sixties' start, every last one of the 1,641 lots was snapped up within 18 months. This fact belies a later popular assumption that the developer had somehow been stuck with parcels nobody wanted. People wanted them all right -- or thought they did, at first. It was the hundreds of absentee owners and those they sold them to who, in time, realizing the development had gone cattywampus, couldn't get rid of them fast enough. But they didn't want to sell them at a loss. So the odd lots, though charming to any who valued rustic seclusion and inspiring mountain views, would in time become a drug on the market. While still offered cheaply compared to most other properties, but even so they often found few takers as its bizarre pedigree and shortcomings and high cost to become code compliant became common knowledge.
No one at all felt stuck with them during those momentous first years. A historic back-to-nature movement was in high gear. A minority of land buyers were stoked at the prospect of enjoying their own economical, unspoiled bit of nature in one of upper California's popular recreational regions. Such vacationers -- and soon, residents -- saw in the sprawling rural development something of a budding backwoods paradise.
Excited in discovering such an affordable wonderland to enjoy vacationing in -- or, far more commonly, a sure-fire investment -- it seemed everyone and their uncle was merrily tumbling down the rabbit hole.
The Vista Thru Time
Further sussing of a peculiar development
Mt. Shasta Vista was, well, different
In some respects the Vista was notably different from other rural subdivisions of the region forming about the same time: Lake Shastina (3,200 lots, started in 1968); McCloud area’s Shasta Forest (791 lots, launched in 1966); Juniper Valley subdivision (some 240 lots, founding date unknown); possibly Hornbrook region’s KRCE (2,050 lots, begun 1967; and Hammond Ranch (launched in 1969, some 430 lots).
One big difference, apart from relative water scarcity: the Vista, born a simple recreational development, never hammered out a master plan for residential growth.
Its ruling documents (CC&Rs, or Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions), were basic and general. Once the place's first few residents rendered the original legal framework inadequate, it spelled almost certain disaster without extensive revision. Such a re-imagining plan was crucial if hoping to provide some avenue for building out with any rhyme and reason, create guardrails to steer the development in an agreed-on direction by firstcomer residents, subsequent board members and other involved owners.
It might've created, among other things, legal powers for the governing board to fine owners for infractions to the agreed on standards (always a two-edged sword), working to assure maintaining some agreed-on quality and style of community. This would've enabled putting a lien on one's ownership title for chronic nonpayment and thus work to establish at least a grudging respect for a local rule of law.
Without any such overarching plan for residential growth, Mt. Shasta Vista was forever left struggling to swim upstream against strong currents and vagaries of changing residencies. Any efforts by the rotating flock of more civic-minded dwellers over time to transform it from a primitive recreational resort into an actual residential community proved little more than an exercise in futility.
As said, with so many parcel owners absentee and seldom, if ever visiting, from the start it seemed most title holders were simply betting on the hoped for actions of a few -- initially the minority of owners who'd actually vacation here and later the even tinier number who'd drop anchor, those who'd naturally be inclined to work to further the place along. Meanwhile they'd sit back and let things progress. Then at some future point they'd either begin enjoying the place themselves or, far more likely, simply cash in and make a good chunk of change for their troubles.
It proved far more troubles than they ever bargained for. Holders were destined to lose heart in droves not long after the development's one promising burst of improvement efforts. By the early 1970s visiting campers and residents-to-be had rallied and pulled together to establish an informal community well, off Juniper Drive. It included an enormous holding tank with giant overhead valve for quickly filling water trucks, and, with a spigot as well, equally served both campers and initially well-less home builders. (Collins, with his usual largess, had sold the association a water truck for a dollar.) About the same time many paid into a fund to get electric power lines extended to lots for their anticipated or already begun dwelling structures. (Covered in detail in part 6.) Also, a long mobile was pulled in in which to hold the initial mandated monthly volunteer board meetings.
Then enthusiasm for group efforts seemed to run out of steam. New residents had switched gears and scrambled to each carve out their own backwoods mini-kingdom.
As earlycomers built the first county-approved dwellings, the place was momentously shifting from shared camp land to the beginnings of actual community -- albeit one spread so thinly amidst the vast acreage, dwellings could appear surreally misplaced to any impressionable visitor. Former interest in enjoying one's parcel for camping vacations no doubt nosedived overnight, as the prospect of pitching a tent within view of someone's living room window couldn't have proved enticing.
The place was becoming neither fish nor fowl.
Fast forward and once various unapproved shelters began flooding the scene, the realm's fledgling legitimate rural community status was gravely imperiled. Without updating the CC&Rs or, at least every would-be resident toeing the line on meeting county health and building code requirements -- made difficult and pricey for the pronounced lack of easy water and power and waste disposal -- the place was at an impasse. It would from then on be stymied at every turn despite whatever efforts were made by the scattered code-compliant residency to continue evolving as some kind of normal, recognized community...or, as time passed, even the faintest facsimile thereof.
At one point early on, the association got it together to appoint volunteer block captains for each of the seven sections. They worked to keep informed of all the goings on in their respective sections, driving around and being apprised of sundry matters by other residents and visitors, then relaying reports to board members to suss over at monthly meetings and deal with if action was deemed merited. This phase of organized local government showed that, despite the unfortunate set of circumstances, there was some sense of community and cohesion among the earliest residency. Even if its primary motivation was likely to try nipping in the bud any blatant code violations, it at least showed a civic-minded spirit that might've served the place well in the long run had it transformed from mere reactive, law-and-order policing into more positive, feel-good avenues of cooperation.
But even such rudimentary grass roots efforts soon all but disappeared, victim of -- as they saw it -- too many barbarians storming the gates and an overwhelmed county code enforcement staff unable to keep said invaders out.
The flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants legal residency soon found itself between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The white elephant time forgot (or tried to)
As a result of the daunting series of snafus and resulting chaos, most outside interest in the wayward development flatlined for decades. After it had outgrown its originally planned use and then stalled trying to segue into anything more (at least by accepted standards), parcel values were lucky to even keep up with inflation.
The development became an unmanageable white elephant of odd lots. More trouble than they were worth trying to move to the thinking of many regional realtors.
It was perhaps not unlike other failed rural subdivisions California developers had hatched over time. Like the controversial 15,287 one-acre lots of California Pines, outside Alturas. Or California City, "America's Largest Abandoned City," 204 square miles, all platted and roads made, in the treeless Mojave Desert. Like them, the arrested rec-land of Shasta Vista had become another place time forgot...or tried to.
In latter times this suited the few actual few residents just fine. Various dwellers grew accustomed to the rich solitude and relished the park-like setting. So few residents amid so much nature proved delightful. But it was terrible for investors and speculators. They found it hard to sell holdings no longer having anything going for them to entice would-be buyers beyond being cheap rural property with great mountain views. Lands were no longer dedicated to camping yet required huge outlays and serious investments of time and effort if wanting to legally stay more than 30 days a year without being made to feel like squatters on their own property.
It didn't help sales efforts any that the place had from the start gotten such a terrible rap, again, being strongly resented by the farming and ranching locals and seen as problematic by county government. Some supervisors had no doubt sided with the livid, bypassed Martin family members and embittered locals.
They refused to accept as legitimate the unwanted child suddenly squalling in their midst.
"Just a matter of time"
Many parcel owners held onto their apparent boondoggles even so; in a dime, in a dollar. They doubled down, paying the piper, in the guise of ever-increasing annual road assessments, through gritted teeth, determined not to lose their shirts. As if in denial, they refused to believe their investment wouldn't pay off some day.
After ages, finally convinced the place had zero chances of getting itself together, many at last bit the bullet. As fed up owners scrambled to unload the clunkers, raw parcels flooded the market.
There were often few takers, though. Even at the modest $1,200 to $1,750 asking price and easy terms. Those who did snap them up were often only themselves disinterested professional investors making small side bets on the place by parking a bit of extra cash a while, knowing the right suc -- er, client would come along sooner or later. Others were similarly uninformed casual investors infected with the latest errant round of amateur speculation fever: "It was such a ridiculously low price, I couldn't resist." Or those thinking to maybe enjoy the parcels themselves once the place got itself together, as it surely must in time.
But beyond the calculated dice rolling and optimistic, "some day" purchasing were, again, the relative few who actually wanted to move onto the parcels right away. Some had resources, some not. To all the lots were pure catnip. Among them were those were eager to secure cheap country land to make like Thoreau, living simply and letting the rest of the world go by, some maybe in time building or relocating a home business or punching a clock in town. A few were still willing to build to code and thus fulfill a long-held dream of becoming country squires of sorts.
Others were only looking for an affordable place to hide out a while on property they could call their own and avoid city rent, with its first and last and security deposit; maybe dodge child support or some outstanding arrest warrant or two. Even if it meant drastically downscaling living standards by hauling in an old mobile home or trailer, or setting up tents, or fashioning ramshackle structures on the fly, generating cesspools (at best) for waste and hauling in every drop of water. All had to either fire up generators or go without go-juice. Even if a power line encouragingly skirted the property, it couldn't be hooked up without first satisfying residential code requirements.
They'd cross their fingers and hope the powers that be would let them be.
Round and round
And so the mirage of a Mt. Shasta Shangri-la, a dreamy backwoods realm undervalued and under-exploited, kept proving itself irresistible to all sorts for all sorts of reasons. As it seduced detached speculators, hopeful investors and would-be residents alike, a predictable pattern of owner relationships with the parcels emerged.
Sporadic cycles of short-lived buying mania followed by long-term absences of any interest whatsoever often became the Vista dance. After decades, hundreds of parcels were -- apart from campfire stone rings and driveways roughed in, sometimes an outhouse or abandoned trailer -- still clinging to relatively pristine states. And so still luring new impulsive buyers, wowed by the land's subtle charms and dirt-cheap prices. Ephemeral fantasies soon abandoned, a long succession of initially jazzed owners and casual small investors over time lost all interest in the lots or belief in their potential profitability. Some parcels no doubt changed hands over half a dozen times during the place's first half century, always attracting a new flock of smitten, powerless to resist such extraordinary land bargains.
As said, the mountain in the place's backyard appeared to emanate a powerful, indefinable force. Those embracing new-age mindsets thought maybe it worked to over-stimulate a person's upper chakras if not better grounded. The thinking went that such people, coming from distant urban places, where lower-chakra energies dominated and upper chakras tended to atrophy, suddenly had imaginations and visualization powers wildly activated. Under the mountain's spell the mind reeled, bursting with fantasies of what all they'd do with their secluded properties, bought for a song.
The phenomenon was, in an offhand way, perhaps California dreamin' full tilt.
So the forlorn development spun round and round on its own short-boom-long-bust merry-go-round. Riders reached out for the ever-elusive brass ring of easy country living or fast turnover profits while select realtors, trying to make their nut moving such marginal properties, supplied the calliope's shrill but hypnotic tune.
Stymied by disinterested, soured speculators
It probably can't be stressed enough: seriously vying with the litany of all other problems -- water scarcity, lack of electricity, absence of development plans, resentful locales putting a whammy on the place, and the high cost of code compliance...on top of all these was the enormous, detached speculative force of a sea of absentee lot owners, many feeling stuck with lemons. It acted to undermine even the most determined efforts of more civic minded residents to try to salvage the place and move it forward onto some semblance of solid footing.
All other problems aside, how could the Vista ever grow with so much of the 90% absentee ownership harboring such buyer remorse and indifference, apathetic to the notion of ever doing anything to help rescue the floundering development? Not if it meant sinking any more money, leastwise, through proposed special assessments to fund community projects. Not even if such projects might've served to increase parcel values by making the place more desirable to live in and visit.
Countless lot owners had fully disconnected, losing whatever faith they might've ever held for the development's potential to become a viable community beyond the chaotic, sub-standard, infrastructure-shy one it seemed to prefer being.
Nickel and dimed
Those who opted to keep the all but unsaleable parcels despite everything (or tried to unload them but couldn't), along with the latest round of new soon-to-be disillusioned parcel holders, felt burdened with dud properties in a dead-in-the-water rural development. Millstones around their necks. Not another blessed cent would they fork out beyond the mandatory association's annual property assessment and the county's annual property taxation. As it was, the former was often paid only amid much kicking and screaming and whines of "I don't even live there or drive the roads, so why should I have to pay for their upkeep?"
For what it was worth, the annual owner assessment was worlds cheaper than that of other regional rural subdivisions except perhaps down-the hill Juniper Valley's. When the writer arrived in the late 1970s, it was only about $20. a year. (By 2021 it would grow to $219; while having become ouchy, it was still by far among the cheapest.) No matter. They still felt nickel-and-dimed to death. Shook down for the latest assessment every fall, they felt something like trailer park mobile home owners, the structures theirs but forever having to pay rent on the space they perched on lest they get snatched away in foreclosure.
Cynics thought the whole set-up smacked of being some kind of racket.
Left for dead
Perhaps predictably, due to the many absentee parcel holders' pronounced disenchantment with the arrested development -- "left for dead" in realtors' stark parlance -- the association often suffered from late annual assessment payments and nonpayments. Initial optimism for the place long ago having evaporated, the wording on annual billing statements grew a bit testy. Key words, in large boldface letters, defied its order for payment being disobeyed: PAY WITHIN 30 DAYS TO AVOID SEVERE PENALTY OR FORECLOSURE. The former lighthearted communication tenor, with its spiels of carefree vacations on charmed lands, had taken on a decidedly hard edge as the board grappled to keep enough revenue coming in to cover the constant maintenance needs of 66 miles of cinder roads that would otherwise return to nature.
Such chilly exhortations only seemed to encourage some to finally blow off paying altogether. They're daring me not to pay, huh? Well, maybe I'll just take them up on that; hell, they can have the damn parcel back...worthless piece of crap; why I ever bought into this screwy lotus land it I'll never know; 'Impossible Acres' would've been a more fitting name for this place...mumble grumble...
Sometimes iffy roads
As more people moved in and the endless cinder roads got more wear, the one-man road crew was often unable to maintain all of them. Not anywhere up the immaculate zen standards of earlier years that made the roads so pleasant to drive on at a mosey and drink in the tranquil scenery -- and so inviting for mischievous kids to gouge deep donuts in with their dirt bikes. Regardless, one good gully-washer of a rainstorm could wash away the cinder topping and cut hazardous mini canyons in the sand underneath on downhill stretches of a road even if it had been nicely groomed just the day before.
Again, this is turn caused various owners to protest paying for roads that weren't kept up -- leastwise not theirs -- the lion's share going to the most heavily trafficked. And the most problematic, like the steep quarter-mile uphill stretch of Perla Road in the front of section 13, often gobbling thousands of dollars a year to maintain. Sparsely settled and non-settled regions might not see the road truck for over a decade -- and then often only because some visiting owner who'd driven hundreds of miles to vacation here only to get stuck in deep sand on the home stretch and forced to call a tow truck. Rightly furious, they held the association board's feet to the fire, demanding they cover the tow bill. This at last would bestir the board to address some of the more seriously neglected roads within the realm's least visited hinterlands.
Problems like these surely didn't make for happy campers.
This was in dramatic contrast to the first visiting owners who'd relished camping on their lands and, later, those moving onto them with infectious high spirits. It was, of course, during extraordinary "God is alive, magic is afoot" time of the late '60s-early '70s. A time when waves of euphoria might wash over one out of nowhere even if your drug of choice was only aspirin or a good stiff martini.
Raise high the roof beam, carpenters
As mentioned, many Vista lots were fairly pristine. Some bore old rotting stumps from lumberman Abner Weed’s harvesting the area’s mature pines in the early twentieth century. And bulldozing needed to make the new networks of roads marred the fronts of some lands. (The KRCE development was born similarly, recycling tree-harvested lands into rec lots to solitude-hungry city folk.) But many parcels, largely left undisturbed for ages, possessed a rich, fragile ecosystem. They felt enchanted to any who appreciated their charms, those who didn't always need towering trees and crystal streams to embrace nature. The land held inviting groves of mature junipers, furry green lichen growing on shaded rocks, riots of tiny colorful wildflowers in spring and early summer, occasional stands of pines and dramatic rock outcroppings, sometimes perched on by mountain lions on the lookout for small deer parties that meandered through.
All lent select areas something of a rarefied atmosphere. It could feel like the place time stood still.
Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, profound quietude and a giddy sense of freedom for being in such secluded back country, reigned over by the majestic mountain...all combined to inspire psyched repeat vacation visits from afar. Enough to eventually move some to want to chuck city living outright and retire here, free to enjoy the tranquility and seclusion of country living full-time. Thus, in the late sixties and early seventies the place indeed briefly became something of a Shangri-la to every nature-loving retiree who'd made the leap and had the bucks to build to their accustomed comfort level (happily, more or less dovetailing with building code requirements).
Legend had it the very earliest comers in the late sixties -- among them one building on White Drive, another on Heinzelman Drive -- hadn't even needed building permits to construct their simple cabin and full-on home, respectively. Code enforcement had yet to establish a foothold in the more remote hinterlands of the sparsely settled, rural county. If true, this maybe set a precedent energetically for subsequent owner-builders to feel they needed only their own permission to build on their remote lots. And the building department was stuck forever playing catch-up, saying in effect, "Hey, you do need a permit now...no, we mean it. Seriously..."
No more sketchy subdivisions
Between 1970 and 1972, California passed a flurry of landmark regulations covering future subdivision formations.
“...[A] new attitude of comprehensive planning and environmental protection emerged,” noted realty attorney James Longtin. The Vista barely got in under the wire before vast regulatory changes made it impossible to any longer spin out such bare-bones, quick-buck, often problematic rural developments.
From then on developers were required to make legally binding commitments to provide all basic infrastructure...plus, over time, they or owner association directors spring for public improvements like parks, playgrounds and community centers. It seemed that our place, though grandfathered in under the earlier, ridiculously lax requirements, came to feel pressure from the county -- in turn under the gun of the state -- whenever a law-abiding owner wanted to build an approved shelter on their one-time camp parcel.
As said, would-be Vistan homesteaders jumped through all kinds of complicated, time-consuming, expensive hoops to earn the right to live on their lots...the first and perhaps most daunting being, before anything else, bringing in an approved well...often a fairly deep one...sometimes a really deep one...and hitting water... hopefully good water. Plus oftentimes also having to pay a small fortune to get electrical lines strung to one's property to power the pump.
Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere?
To build or not build community
Maybe county officials had crossed their fingers, hoping there'd never be any who, for some strange reason, actually wanted to live on raw, bone-dry lots out in the middle of nowhere. For each new building permit okay-ed would mean several long time-consuming drives to inspect and sign off each of numerous completion stages. They had better things to do.
Jumping ahead decades and residents had better things to do than work on building any dubious community. The polarized energies discouraged it at every turn. Bowling alone was in. More people seemed to move here expressly to do their own thing and be left alone: hermits united (or disunited). They'd at most often only reluctantly try working together. A visit to a monthly board meeting, where the place's often buzz-saw contentious dysfunctionality was on full display, offered a quick cure for anyone with a misbegotten notion to plug in and help the place along. Any vision beyond the usual volunteer fire department and rummage sales and such to support it, maybe seek a grant to fund making the area safer from wildfires, often just didn’t seem to go with the dirt-cheap lots with near-zero infrastructure. One paid dearly for those added features in more developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, gas, sewage, security, fire department... When you bought land cheap, expectations of community could be low to nonexistent. Some people bought here expressly because of the lack of community.
Not so Vista’s cash-rich, starry-eyed pioneers of yore, of course. Bewitched by the region’s allure during simpler times enough to invest their time, fortunes and fondest hopes, they were stoked at the prospect of working together to carve out a nice rustic retirement community for themselves and any who might later be interested. An upscale hideaway sanctuary, far from the madding crowd. As a song lyric went, they wanted to believe they were “...going where the living is easy and the people are kind."
Kind of something, anyway.
The Vista Thru Time
Further reflections on the one-time
vacation resort's first 50 years
vs. "up the drawbridge!"
Some new Vista residents felt blessed. Swept up in the joy of service and the grand pioneering adventure of it all and living in the bosom of nature, they were eager to share their good fortune with new arrivals. They'd offer cheerful assistance whenever they could, wanting to see their fledgling backwoods community grow and flourish. Each new arrival in the sparse settlement was potentially a valuable addition.
Often these more altruistic souls were residents of homes that original inhabitants had moved out of once, er, the thrill of Vista living was gone. Newcomers hadn't experienced their ordeals of complying with onerous health and building codes, the willful vandalism by irate locals, or "illegal" residents kicking back hard to the former owners' efforts to get rid of them. They were more in the moment, relaxed, live-and-let-live, even inviting one to share an afternoon 'drinky-poo' on their shady porch.
Not so others, mostly the first wave of residents. Strictly law and order adherents, they were a tad less egalitarian. They wanted to pull up the drawbridge post haste. They'd erect huge snarly warning signs everywhere, determined to keep the riff-raff out. They’d majorly bank on Siskiyou county residential-code enforcement, whose public-service staff salaries their property taxes paid, after all, to duly protect their rural outpost from getting overrun by any misguided souls so brazen as to try invading their would-be respectable wilderness paradise on the cheap...especially revved-up younger folks of threadbare means...most especially pot-smoking hippies and beer-guzzling bikers that they thought they'd at long last left behind.
They knew such lot buyers would be worlds away from ever embracing their convention-locked, law-abiding, retiring ways and so would be devastating to their tight structured order of things. Thus they took on a sea of trouble. With a flinty insistence they demanded every property holder earn the right to live on the land just as they had. They had to first meet all health and building code requirements, no matter what the cost, time or effort involved. If you couldn't afford it or didn't want to go down that path, well, the place obviously wasn't for you.
When various and sundry indeed started moving in on the cheap, they went bonkers. Pretenders to the realm -- erecting their tents, pulling in derelict mobile homes and building tumbledown structures and hanging their hats, figuring they were home -- had them fit to be tied. The brazen newcomers, in turn, appeared oblivious or indifferent to what a few scattered residents, now foaming at the mouth, thought of their sudden threadbare presence. It was "Mind your own business and I'll mind mine and we'll get along fine." And many didn't seem at all concerned over the county ordinances they were either ignoring or in blissful ignorance of. It seemed that being out in the middle of nowhere on such secluded cheap land could dull one's perception to any felt need to conform to the T
The growling No this, No that signs were dismissed as largely bluff. Newcomers went their merry way, "doing their own thing", that watch phrase of the rebellious countercultural era becoming more popular with each passing year, people leaving the times' fading, over-rigid law-and-order mindset behind...or trying to.
Whenever being rudely reminded otherwise by unpleasant confrontations with compliant residents gone nuclear or the soon-summoned, all-business county code enforcers, it did little to make them want to ever comply, perhaps even if some could afford to. The law-and-order firstcomers, bent into pretzels and spitting-nails mad in their struggle to preserve their La-la-land-ish, country club enclave, had such a zero tolerance for the scofflaw newcomers trying to sneak in that more free-minded land buyers, scoping the tight-wound headspaces, said screw 'em, we'll take our chances.
While it was all most unfortunate, it was the way things were. The modern day pioneers -- who'd diligently crossed every 't' and crossed every 'i', making substantial investments in time, money and sweat -- established residency requirements they fully expected every future would-be resident of Mt. Shasta Vista to likewise follow. Suddenly it seemed such rules didn't even exist.
Almost overnight, their one-time safe-haven backwoods retirement community started turning into its own madding crowd.
Some of those of lesser means and more or less law abiding -- who'd nurtured hopes of living their own, simpler version of idyllic country living but were poorly informed and had no inclination to try bucking the system -- found their fondest dreams dashed to smithereens on receiving an antagonized 'unwelcome wagon' visit by a delegation of crazed, overbearing hardasses who swooped down on them out out of nowhere and read them the riot act.
Others, thicker skinned and far less concerned with ever complying or rendering unto Caesar in general, dug in and kicked back. One time, a unsanctioned neighbor with pronounced combative tendencies had been given his walking papers. He responded by tracking down the current board president and aggressively tailgating him for miles along the otherwise empty back roads. While the man was no doubt alarmed, maybe even terrorized on looking in his rearview and thinking he'd somehow gained the ire of a crazed madman, some might say he was only reaping what he and earlier board members sowed.
Home in the country
By the early to mid 1970s, after the first wave or two of settlers had settled following the few late sixties' early birds, a sprinkling of maybe thirty or so year-round, mostly compliant residences were dotting the landscape. While the code defiant had yet to gain a substantial foothold, momentum was growing. The genie was out of the bottle about the cheap remote Mt. Shasta lands. Various and sundry began leaping at the chance to make the Vista’s boonies their home too. In the bigger picture, the notion of not just visiting but actually living in nature was taking off. “Head for the hills, brothers!” was the clarion call as more and more city-weary, nature-hungry souls of all sorts joined the back-to-the-land movement then in high gear.
As interest grew in making an exodus from city living, the Vista gained the air of a sort of time-release Oklahoma land rush. In leaps and bounds, excited new arrivals of all stripes began settling here. Or trying to. With the place having no master plan for development, each was winging it, flying blind on arrival to their snapped-up bargain lot. The land experienced fitful frenzied bursts of shelter construction, some to code, others not, sounds of hammering and whining circular saws flooding the air. Writer guesstimates that by the mid to late seventies maybe sixty to eighty residences of varying degrees of ambition and legitimacy were sprinkled among the roughly seven square miles of juniper and sagebrush backcountry.
Those choosing to ignore code requirements, playing it by ear in the mad scramble, were intent on getting a toehold established while the getting was good. It was always harder trying to tell someone they couldn't be there once they'd built a shelter and moved in, fenced off their property and posted No Trespassing and Keep Out signs. It was territoriality writ large.
With so many hypnotized by the land once it grabbed them, eclipsing any more practical concerns, a strange wonderland, at increasing variance with mundane realities, seemed to emerge...despite the most dedicated efforts of the core of older, code-compliant residents busy going berserk trying to nip things in the bud.
It's unknown if some of the heavily invested first wave ever gave thought to trying to get the CC&Rs revised by a law firm. Conceivably this might've enabled an orderly growth into a standard community, one in which things were spelled out so each would-be resident knew the score. Before doing anything more than visit, one would fully realize they were expected to put in an approved well (or share one with up to three adjacent residents); pay to have power lines extended if needed; and install an approved septic system -- all before becoming eligible to apply for a county building permit...and then fully conforming to the exhaustive health and building code requirements. The procedure would've assured the place established a solid footing and thus remained a 'respectable', law-abiding community that might eventually gain at least a grudging respect from the surrounding community.
A moot point, of course. With 98% of the property owners absent and living all over the nation, many already beginning to nurse serious buyer remorse, such residents would've realized they could never muster the needed two-thirds vote to tackle such a monumental and costly legal re-structuring move. And heck, they were retirees; their days of heavy lifting were done once the building of their homes was a done deal.
A more cynical view might've held that the founders, while realizing building full-on homes amid a sea of raw vacation parcels was bound to create certain problems down the road, didn't much care. They had theirs for whatever remained of their time left on earth. They'd earned it, by golly, after a lifetime of hard work and then having conformed to every last nit-picky, pricey legal residency requirement. So, stoked on the territorial imperative, they'd bogart the realm to the hilt, let the chips fall where they may. Their attitude was basically "Too bad if you can't afford to live here and build to code like we did, but the law's the law." Then later, while still loaded for bear even though realizing the system was spectacularly failing them, "And if we can't get you out, we'll at least make your lives a living hell."
For better or worse, the emerging neither-this-nor-that place was essentially left a blank canvas. One to be painted on and painted over and painted over yet again by whatever the latest in an ever-changing succession of residents aspired the Vista to become (if anything). Each among the more dominant and involved of current inhabitants advanced their own notions of how the place should be. They tried convincing others it was the best or only way to go. The situation was not unlike excited children building sandcastles on the seashore...until high tide rushed in and erased even their efforts. Then, later, new castles were built by others, likewise unmindful of the next high tide. Or like creating an image on an Etch-a-Sketch, then with a flick of the wrist even the most elaborate designs were shaken away, returning the screen to blank.
While homebuilding efforts ostensibly fell within the bounds of county, state and federal authority -- ordinances and codes the development and its eventual co-owners were legally obliged to conform to as conditions for the place being greenlit -- these were never easy to enforce by the sparsely populated county's undermanned staff tasked with oversight and enforcement. A tiny dwelling amid the sprawling, 66-mile labyrinth of private unpaved roads, out in the middle of nowhere, was not easy to track. Or even be aware of existing without pouring over satellite photos. Or, as it happened, through outraged code-compliant residents burning up the phone lines reporting every last noncompliance infestation and demanding swift enforcement action to eradicate it.
It was a tall order. With the heady sense of freedom living in such secluded back-country enclave lent newly rusticating dwellers, compliant and outlaw alike -- often no one else living within a quarter mile or more -- something of a pronounced libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit emerged. Especially among the more rebellious, minimalist lifestyle baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of earlier waves, had felt so irresistibly pulled to the mountain. They'd discovered plentiful dirt-cheap parcels for sale in a sleepy buyer's market, as more and more property holders cut their losses and shook free of what had turned out to be the worst investment they'd ever had the sorry misfortune to get involved in.
Parcels were going a dime a dozen. Eager buyers didn't stop to wonder too much why they were going so cheap. It maybe struck them as being one of the few remaining bargain land deals around and they'd been smart enough to latch onto them.
Doing one's thing
The free-wheeling spirit of some might’ve been fine had the place from the start built a solid foundation of infrastructure support and appropriate CC&Rs. But it didn't. Cheap land really could create cheap intentions. The place's recreational use had run its course and the disparate crowd of settlers pouring in were bent on going their own way and being left alone. Certainly, few if any longer bought into the de facto retirement community with its rigid mindset of how things should be. During the radical late 60s to early 70s, as different ages, headspaces, lifestyles, incomes, awareness levels, land-use intents and respect for rule of law were all thrown together into the cookie-cutter wilderness of a subdivision, it could seem the only common ground cultivated was agreeing to complain about each other.
It's probably fair to say that it was the unwillingness of many to build to code that, more than anything, became the deal breaker that prevented the place from ever segueing into your standard community. The resulting rebellious spirit would tear to shreds any of the place's threadbare social fabric and embryonic community sense, sparking a long pitched battle between the dutifully code compliant and mutinous code breakers. The former viewed the latter as illegal residents deserving the bum's rush; the latter viewed the former as uptight power trippers with too much money and a serious need to chill.
But all factors had combined to make for a place so festering with irreconcilable differences both within and without that it seemed it never had a ghost of a chance. A place built on such shaky footing -- lacking water, electricity and supporting CC&Rs; 'What building code?' attitudes and an overwhelmed county's inability and/or unwillingness to effectively enforce it; a place rife with contentious energies aimed at it by embittered locals, resentment it even existed baked into the place's very inception...all seemed to guarantee that whatever elusive hopes civic minded residents and property holders over time held to try turning the place around were forever doomed six ways to Sunday.
The board: hardball with a vengeance
Reflecting, sometimes magnifying, the place's many woes was the owner association's board of directors. Formed to fulfill the ongoing needs of the nonprofit corporation -- mostly road maintenance -- it was required by the state to meet monthly and normally was composed six volunteer elected members, each serving in staggered, two-year terms. Since all members had to live in approved structures to be eligible, the board naturally led the charge in declaring war on noncompliance in a struggle to save the fledgling backwoods community from degenerating into wrack and ruin.
Universal health and building code compliance was also critical if one ever decided to move on and wanted to sell their place at a decent price. Eventually realizing their ship was indeed sinking, their outrage was magnified for touching the money nerve, realizing they'd lose out on getting any decent return for all their hard work and expense in creating legal residences in now questionable neighborhoods.
Infuriated board members, reporting flurries of violations, determined to bust anyone and everyone not in strict code compliance, created a stony legacy of scorched-earth overreach and hardball action. Building a fence without a permit? Report the bugger. In the course of such hell-bent efforts, they alienated everyone who hadn't made similar serious investments to comply. Or even sometimes those who had bought compliant homes from those who did, having misgivings for having moved into such a disaster area in which it seemed everyone was gnashing their teeth. For decades the place experienced a mini reign of terror. Various board members went about with at times balls out ruthlessness, doing their damnedest to try stamping out the plague infesting the one-time law abiding backwoods enclave.
Such intolerance made the place more than a tad less desirable to live in. It scared off even your like-minded, would-be-code-compliant owner-builders from settling, especially on hearing war stories from spitting-mad residents, or getting grimaces and rolled eyes from building department workers the second they mentioned the place's dread name.
While time ultimately proved code conformity battle a lost cause, a whack-a-mole effort that did little to stem the rising tide of scofflaw building, it was a cause celebre -- "the law's the law" -- a hardline stance that swept up everyone into the polarized fray, or tried to. There were no innocent bystanders. Those who refused to take a stand -- "Sorry, we didn't move out here to get mixed up in local politics" -- were scorned as do-nothing enablers and so part of the problem.
The enforcement system they'd depended on was failing them. It was allowing barbarians to storm the gates and stay. Shocked over their shattered dream once the regulating efforts proved mostly ineffective, they'd come to take a certain grim satisfaction exacting a pound of flesh from every transgressor they stumbled on, threatening dire consequences if they didn't toe the line. Even when they knew such threats were now largely empty, they must've felt expressing such open hostility might work to make at least some feel so unwelcome they'd want to start packing...if only to get away from such "neighbors from hell", most of whom lived miles distant.
Indeed, a few of your more unwitting transgressors, having no stomach for such ugly confrontations, promptly gave up and moved on, disillusioned and devastated. Those who at least vaguely knew they were courting trouble, left mumbling, "Oh, well, it was worth a try." Yet others, having thicker skins and more rebellious natures, dug in hard. They escalated right along with the enforcers, daring them to do their damnedest. They'd fence off their places and post their own gnarly signs. One of the more chilling: underneath a cross-hairs symbol were the words "Fair warning. You're within range." Some actually seemed to enjoy taunting the enforcer crowd in a cat-and-mouse game.
There was yet another reason for having manned the battle stations, Klaxon horns blaring to wake the dead. Being a nonprofit mutual benefit common interest corporation, the Vista's board of directors was legally mandated by the state to make a good-faith effort to have association members abide by all county, state, and federal codes, laws and ordinances. Technically, they could be held liable for neglecting proper enforcement efforts; board members conceivably could be sued.
As if to show there could be no doubt they weren't shirking their duties, the board reported each and every infraction that their ongoing policing investigations uncovered.
Short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, the place was, again, fully at the mercy of county authorities to keep things on track...or, once that boat had sailed, work to make things right again. The board had no legal enforcement powers, so, as taxpayers, they demanded the stretched-thin county enforcement agencies address the problem and return the realm to 100% code compliance. For what earthly good were laws if not actually enforced?
Failing that, at least it'd all be on them. (Then maybe they'd get sued.)
While each land buyer signed an agreement to abide by all governmental laws, regulations and ordinances on purchase of their parcel, it was of course buried in the boilerplate sea of legaleeze fine print. As mentioned, beyond the more blatant law breakers of latter times were those who, in the rush to pursue dreams of tranquil country living, had remained blissfully unaware they'd ever agreed to any such thing. They were shocked, then, when told, often with fire-breathing intensity, how you couldn't do this or that and don't even think of doing the other thing. People started to feel foolish and misguided in trying to settle in what had at first seemed a delightful and charming place but for some strange reason had gone off the deep end.
It could radicalize one against the local powers that be in an instant.
The more cash-strapped, instant sanctuary sort of newcomers only knew they'd snagged an affordable piece of rural California and were psyched to do their own thing and be left alone come hell or high water. Maybe over time they'd try for a well; maybe not. They'd connect with kindred souls who right away advise them, "Just ignore the board; I do -- hell, everyone does; it's a toothless tiger, just a buncha retired power-freak busybodies with nothing better to do than try telling others how to live. Screw 'em and the horses they rode in on."
The very nature of any good-sized rural subdivision, its crazy-quilt of lots tucked away out in the boonies, could be problematic by its very nature, even with supporting infrastructure and CC&Rs. While it enabled any so inclined to buy a bit of rural land affordably -- rather than going bust shelling out for, say, a pricey stand-alone 20, 40 or 80 acre parcel and then have to deal with road access and maintenance on their lonesome -- the hidden costs could be steep indeed. One found themselves living with a potluck assortment of strangers concentrated together in the middle of nowhere and mandated by law to cooperate, yet isolated from the high-density town and city lifestyle that had made the same plethora of rules and regulations feel normal. Now it felt intolerably oppressive.
It was that same crowded, super-regulated urban reality that many wanted to get away from and led them here in the first place.
Sharing the fantasy
The fact that people wanted their own land and to live closer to nature and be a more respectable distance from one another made it difficult to warm to the reality of others sharing the land around them, despite a far thinner density than your typical urban environment. While you often couldn't see another house from your property, lending the illusion you had the area all to yourself, everyone, for better or worse, was inextricably bound together by the legal structure and its sundry edicts. Again, it was like a bureaucratic, intrusive city mindset superimposed on the untamed countryside. As a result, thinking that the place offered independent country living at times could feel little more than a cruel illusion.
Steve, a late neighbor -- whose manner of speech bore striking resemblance to actor Sam Elliot -- once told the writer, "People need to learn to share the fantasy." While many could feel like they owned maybe 20 or 40 acres or had at the least had one heck of a buffer zone surrounding their parcels, they perhaps needed to allow others to enjoy the same sense by being considerate and mindful of their well being needs as well as their own. Otherwise, the potential for ceaseless territorial squabbling and indifference to the rights of others could result in a chaotic, wild-frontier climate that ruined it for everyone.
The Vista's laundry list of neighborhood grievances at times was a formidable one.
Between barking dogs, roving packs of same, discharging firearms, blasting stereos, gunning engines, driving too fast and/or recklessly, vandalizing and stealing road signs, burning toxic materials in backyards rather than hauling them to the dump; tree poaching epidemics; juvenile dirt bikers roaring around on devices loud as chainsaws, making donuts in the roads and tearing through the unfenced lots of absentee owners; roadside littering and flagrant garbage dumping, letting winds blow one's property detritus to the four corners with zero concern for degrading the environment... Between all of these there was always something to raise one's hackles.
In sheer frustration, residents forever complained to the largely powerless board, mostly to no avail. And to county authorities, who in turn were often so caught up in the swamp of slow bureaucratic procedure and reflecting an older populace's set ways that they themselves might also feel powerless -- and/or disinclined -- to work to try resolving the place's constant plague of problems. Or, among the more benumbed and burned out on elected public service, be well practiced in the art of the two-step avoidance dance in response to constituents' wails of "Can't you do something?!" It seemed the buck never stopped anywhere, instead circling endlessly: "Well, unfortunately there's not a lot we can do"; "Sorry, but it's not my problem"; "You see, it's complicated"; "You might give Neighborhood Watch another go", "You could try suing"...
Beyond a certain element in local government hostile or indifferent to the Vista's plight, possibly it wasn't so much supervisors and code enforcers not caring per se as it was, again, the county's rural population embracing such a relaxed, stand-alone country lifestyle. Some in government beyond law enforcement simply seemed to lack the disposition and inclination one cultivated living in more stress-filled urban climates to grab the bull by the horns and pursue thorny problems such as those routinely faced by residents living out in the boonies and eroding the charm of country living.
And, critically, they depended on the vast majority of residents to be law-abiding citizens. The rural county didn't have the public treasure to enforce its own ordinances, should enough -- for whatever reason -- chose to ignore them.
If so, they could quickly find themselves in deep doo-doo.
The Vista Through Time
1965 - 2015
Subdivisions not organic settlements;
no community center
For anyone whose imagination took a surreal bent, it might've seemed the state, in approving such rural subdivisions that each county then dealt with, was perhaps employing social scientists conducting some sort of weird social lab experiment. Like they wanted to know how many strangers could live together in the middle of nowhere and deal with state-imposed mandates before it drove them all nuts. "Hey guys, I think we have a new contender here."
Most people moved to the country for peace and quiet. To enjoy fresh air and quietude, to live more simply...and be left the hell alone. They didn't want to deal with any blasted bureaucratic mandates and so did their level best to ignore them, even if the downside was possibly encouraging an infusion of a scofflaw element attracted to the place as a promising hideaway. Some might say the very word 'subdivision' handicapped such developments from ever thriving, the very word sounding so, well, divisive.
Historically, when a settlement was founded by one or a party, it evolved over time; yhere was an organic process at work. New residents gained a sense of belonging and measure of empowerment and engagement within the slowly growing community they each played a role in. The Vista, in stark contrast, was founded by a realtor who lived six hundred miles away. He had every last bit of land cookie-cutter-platted into 1,641 lots before the first buyer ever set foot on them. It was his creation, such as it was, designed to be no more than shared recreational parcels. So, when it later began seguing into a would-be community, residential growth was chaotic. It lacked -- forget infrastructure -- crucial cohesive growth guidelines, self-determination and the abiding pride of any 'home-grown' community.
Vista's iffy situation was made iffier still by various former residents in time renting out their residences once the bloom of Vista living was off the rose. Such renters had zero say in how the place was run as far as board eligibility, even if in time one might've felt a strong vested interest and wanted to get involved and help the place along. At least, more than joining the volunteer fire department or do fundraisers for it.
The problem, once again, was enormously exacerbated by the legion of disinterested absentee parcel owners who'd long constituted over 90% of association membership, dwarfing the number of actual residents. They held equal voting power on any proposal. To many of the speculative, it was a gone-sour investment. So they'd scream over every cent of annual due increase, right along with many actual residents who'd become indifferent to the, by then, outlandish notion of lifting a finger (beyond the middle one) to help out the wilderness condo. Management was supposed to take care of everything and parcel holders paid their salaries. Even some long-established parties, having their own social scene wired, thank you, and having become well aware of how much the cards were stacked against the place, discarded as naive, if well-meant, pipe dreams any civic-minded ambitions for the Vista to pull itself together.
A prime example of how vast the lack of cooperative spirit could be: One day in the 1990's, dozens of unwanted-orange, plastic bagged phone books were dropped off below the mailbox complex -- or pushed off the box top to the ground by an irate resident -- at the busy Juniper Drive entrance. While it created an eyesore for everyone driving by, for over a month no one ever bothered to deal with it. The disbelieving writer (who didn't live in that part) held off, waywardly fascinated by such monumental indifference. (Finally I gathered them up and recycled them.) No doubt many had grumbled to themselves, Someone ought to clean those up, but of course never thinking to be that someone. They perhaps got a perverse rush raking the board over the coals for being so discombobulated it couldn't even deal with such a simple matter.
A more far-reaching example: In 1981, indifferent association members gleefully shot down a proposal made by then board president Eric Prescott. He'd envisioned The Vista building a modest multi-use community center on one of the hundreds of empty lots. for the mutual benefit of every resident and owner-visitor, at a time when the place was really starting to grow. Even though it would’ve only involved a modest extra assessment for two years to fund, the project cost being spread thinly among so many parcel owners, and undoubtedly would’ve benefited myriad over time, fostering a comforting sense of community and increasing lot value for the sea of absentee land holders, the owner majority chorused their favorite refrain: "Not One Cent More!"
Many embraced the persistent, fond illusion that once they'd bought the land, except for annual property taxes (some no doubt not even aware of that persistent reality) they were home free. So they took strong exception to having to feed the parking meter, as it were, every year for road maintenance on roads absentee owners never even drove on lest their property get towed away by the Mt. Shasta Vista Property Owners Association for resale to the next likely equally clueless buyer.
Not that there weren't also absentee owners who, despite all, treasured the land and the elusive hope its promising early beginnings might re-blossom. But such hope faced the constant headwinds of a hopelessness born of long-entrenched indifference by the majority. Some maybe entertained wistful notions of moving here someday once it somehow, finally, miraculously, redeemed itself -- or perhaps even as-is and hoping for the best. And a few others still enjoyed periodic camping retreats on more secluded retreat properties located far from busy arteries and the established homes clustered along the few power lines, often relatively close to the blacktop.
But it seemed the overwhelming majority -- jaded residents and disillusioned absentee owners alike -- had grown terminally apathetic to the notion of ever trying to improve the place. That is, not if it meant one more penny pried from wallet or purse.
Some doubtless thought a portion of their annual assessment could go towards funding whatever civic improvements the more community-minded thought might help the place along. But the budget was almost always stretched to the breaking point over the high cost of maintaining the 66 miles of roadbed. Plus, the board was repossessing parcels that couldn't be resold readily and so their annual county property taxes was now covered by the association, eating into available funds. Then there were vandalized or stolen road signs needing frequent replacement (back when that was still done in an at least semi timely manner). And skyrocketing insurance rates. And thorny legal matters with potential lawsuits, requiring keeping a pricey attorney on retainer. And...
Disinterested association managers &
board presidents with conflicts of interest
In the 1980s, the association started shelling out for the annual salary of a professional association manager. Things had grown too complicated and time-consuming for volunteer board members alone. Most were unversed in legal matters to grasp the intricate procedures in running the development according to Hoyle once the state legislature in 1985 enacted a flurry of new regulations for subdivisions with its Davis Stirling Act.
But it would add insult to injury when, over time, such salaried managers (we've had two) -- whom residents might, not unreasonably, assume would work for the good of the place, helping preserve the Vista's relaxed livability, keeping residents' best interests at heart -- themselves speculated on lots. Or worse, actually brokered lot sales serving as a realty agent on the side, eventually to parties intent on turning aforesaid tranquil lifestyle upside down and inside out.
And while some, maybe even most, board presidents kept the well being of the residency in mind, balanced with the valid concerns of the many absentee parcel holders, one (who shall remain nameless) was part of a realty outfit aggressively working to turn over parcels. It later ramped up and exploited the frustration of hundreds of stuck property holders by mounting what in time was a successful campaign and making a bundle by recycling parcels to buyers with ready cash yet obviously expedient intentions. She long held that the right of a property owner to do with their lot whatever they wanted trumped any consideration for the well being of the community as a whole.
Though the development was technically a nonprofit public benefit corporation, at times it instead seemed such a callous, for-profit, make-money-anyway-you-can-off-the-turkey, hustling enterprise by many involved it beggared belief.
No there there
Many residents, having low expectations going in, accepted the fact there wasn't more there there. Nothing beyond the trees and sage and simple roads and signs. Maybe even relieved, as it suited some just fine. Various parties were simply using the place as a temporary perch, planning to move on when something better opened up. Again, to the thinking of many, trying to create community awareness and involvement seemed to hold negative potential for becoming an intrusive force spearheaded by a bunch of bored, power-hungry busybodies hellbent on trying to tell others how to live. Such a powerful negative spiral at play prevented any brief-lived virtuous cycle from emerging more than it did.
Many people that the wayward realm could attract seemed of an unconventional bent. They'd moved here to get as far away from over-complicated, peace-eroding bureaucratic urban forces as possible and yet still not be too far from town. As a late section 13 Pilar Road resident, then president of the Siskiyou Arts Council, said of the place during a public radio interview, "We live out in the middle of nowhere and we love it!"
Those who'd dutifully conformed to code requirements, or bought places that had, ostensibly had greater peace of mind with which to enjoy them for being dutifully law abiding. But even those who hadn't and were hunkering down hopefully under radar likewise seemed to feel they had an inviolable right to enjoy their parcels any way they chose and not be hassled -- possession, after all, being nine-tenths of the law -- even while blatantly ignoring any laws and ordinances that didn't suit their fancy and seemed unlikely to be enforced.
Handy place to perch
The Vista, an arrested subdivision that had spectacularly failed to segue into any sort of normal community, an embarrassment of empty lots and increasingly unenforced health and building codes, struck all kinds of burnouts from urban living as a dandy place to perch. Cheap and remote. But not too remote. The compliant among them could enjoy simple stand-alone country living, while the non-compliant could more than likely get away with not conforming to code, perhaps suffering singed feathers at worst. Both paid the mandatory annual dues (usually) and as idle pastime demonized the volunteer board as the source of all ills. With a shortsightedness the place seemed to cultivate, it was THE fly in the ointment preventing any more carefree country living.
The most cynical felt the board setup was bogus. Probably illegal. Corrupt as hell anyhow. "Someone oughta sue", "Why I ever moved here...", "This place would be just fine if it weren't for...", "they can't do that", ad infinitum. Unfounded rumors of board members dipping into the treasury were rife.
Though such gnarly energies weren't always evident, it could often feel that way. There were in fact respites, pleasant lulls when the dread fire-breathing beast of contention seemed to slumber. During such more peaceful times -- especially in magical spring weather -- a laid-back spirit prevailed over a land that felt richly blessed. Grateful people relished their solitude amid sunshiny, largely unspoiled nature. All was well with the world. A tenuous live-and-let-live attitude almost seemed to prevail, denizens so used to the place being dysfunctional it felt normal.
But such contented times could seem few and far between.
Perennial joker in the deck
While there was something that made everyone feel like the king or queen of their own regal rustic wild realm, their own little backwoods hideaway bought for a song, one had to continually tune out the joker in the deck: the unending battle over code compliance. It could make said royalty feel more like would-be serfs, nonconforming residents under the yoke of would-be oppressive overlords who'd met county legal residency requirements and, duly vested in upholding law and order, were relentless demanding others do the same or else.
Alas, this joker, like a rude Jack-in-the-box, kept popping up, crimping the lives of non-complying dwellers during the long intolerable years that roughly spanned between the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s. While domains tucked furthest out along the endless back roads often had so few inhabitants they might've imagined their digs more like pioneer homesteads of yore -- rather than any dratted modern-day subdivision parcels, subject to a slew of nit-picky, spirit-stifling rules and regulations -- the latter sooner or later showed up to put a decided damper in one's day.
Some board members and their cohorts, their fondest hopes for the place in tatters and, consequently, minds unhinged and drunk on the limited power being a board member bestowed, were running amok like so many little T-Rexes. They'd try wielding absolute authority over the domain with barred teeth and razor claws, intent on terrorizing any hapless inhabitant who had the unmitigated gall to try living here without first paying the piper.
Fast forward and the latest board members, though still hostile to the non-compliant in their midst, became at least semi-resigned to suffer the now seemingly unsolvable situation. Board meeting attendees, many mindful the tragic legacy of Shangri-la lost, could sink into deep depression. And even with its once iron authority now rusting away, residents could still feel that one couldn't do diddly-squat without first getting board approval -- and then grow old waiting for it. ("Matter tabled til next month, yawn; motion for adjournment?") Same thing if one wanted to start a new volunteer service to help out the place.
Example: at a meeting held in then-president Bonnie Jolly's living room, the writer volunteered to become unpaid custodian for the subdivision to deal with road litter epidemic despoiling the countryside. Though they formally voted me into the position, it was strange. It was almost as if they were sleepwalking. They wouldn't address any details of the post, like supplying trash bags, or dealing with dump fees. I 'quit' my imaginary position before I started, knowing I needn't say anything to anyone, as clearly their hearts weren't in it. Burned out volunteering the board operation, they wanted to do no more than cover the routine, thankless, calling-it-in matters like road maintenance. (I 'd keep gathering road litter on my own, as did a few others likewise concerned.).
The way board members could possess such a tired, defeatist, no-can-do air, some residents tuned out their existence and tackled things as they saw fit. Like setting right a road sign that was struck and precariously listing or repairing a stretch of road in front of their place rather than wait months going through stupifyingly sluggish official channels.
Apathy and a sense of hopelessness in the place was so epidemic, at times it felt like we were like a half-sunken ship, with only the will to bail just enough water to keep from going completely under.
Jumping back to earlier, intolerant years again... Despite the seemingly gone-bonkers board throwing its weight around and on constant red alert, remote circumstances had still somehow lent a tenuous assurance one could do (or should be able to do) whatever they wanted on their land. No uptight board lacking credibility and legal fining power or getting any more thorough enforcement response from the county could stop them.
Private-property rights were sacrosanct, after all. With more scofflaw dwellers blocking from mind the reality of being part of any external world's bothersome rules, the mundane reality of needing an elected board of directors to take care of business simply didn't register. It just felt too invasive, too arbitrary, too self-defeating to the very reason people moved here.
Again, the illusion of anything goes manifested in great part due to the vast majority of raw-parcel owners living far away and rarely, if ever, visiting their lots. To actual dwellers they held no more than an easily tuned out phantom presence. Inhabitants had come to view the thousand-some vacant, undeveloped, seemingly unsellable parcels almost as some sort of permanent common park lands; each dweller was sovereign over their own inviolate mini fiefdom of two to three acres, plus a luxuriant buffer zone to equal that of one land-rich.
On the subtle, though, some residents, beyond the board members who were in contact with them, must've vaguely sensed the absent owners' displeasure over how the place had become such a dead-in-the-water, dysfunctional development. One with firewood-selling tree poachers raiding absentees' unprotected lots, sometimes even harboring actual squatters. Though perhaps having no one to blame but themselves for being such suckers as to buy into an obviously ultra-problematic place without first doing do diligence, it was easier blaming the residency for appearing to not care diddlysquat about the sorry situation.
Whether or not one sensed this yet one more pernicious force, on one level absentees' combined ire over the dismal state of affairs added to the overload of contentious energies at play. Though subtle, it might gnaw at a resident's peace of mind no less than the in-your-face, code compliant dwellers waging war on the many and sundry non-compliant.
Early pot grows and vigilante episodes
inside the intractable tract
In the early 2000s, one of the few residents then furtively growing illicit cannabis to sell on the black market before pot laws were further decriminalized found himself with new neighbors on Starling Road. They were keen on doing the same thing. Wanting to avoid increasing the likelihood of bringing unwanted attention to his own operation, he persuaded them to leave by promising violence in no uncertain terms if they didn't.*
*California had, of course, legalized medical marijuana in 1996, first in the nation. In time, before it legalized recreational pot in late 2016 and changed the game rules yet again, a few enterprising Vistan residents had pooled together scrip from the sea of registered medical marijuana 'patients', entitling them to grow six plants a year for each. In effect, it let them grow up to 99 plants and technically still be in compliance with state law before triggering possible federal interest if growing more.
Reportedly, after 2016 this 99 plant figure later would become the tacitly agreed-on limit, barring any filed complaints, by a seemingly overwhelmed (and/or under-motivated or empowered) county sheriff's department for illicit commercial grows. The six plant limit the state specified for all but licensed commercial grows would be gleefully ignored by the flood of later growers and, eventually, even the 99 plant limit. (The civil misdemeanor fine was the same whether growing 30 or three thousand plants -- $500.)
Siskiyou county, for what little it seemed to matter, would decide not to allow ANY commercial grows in the unincorporated county, i.e., beyond incorporated city limits. A town's people would have the option to vote to approve legal commercial grows and sale dispensaries or not; the towns of Weed (of course) and Mt. Shasta both would.
The Vista's few early state-legal grows no doubt would help set the stage for later developments, proving yet again how the relatively remote place was forever an irresistible draw to all sorts, for all reasons.
Between a critical handful of your more anarchistic-leaning residents ignoring any and all rules and regulations interfering with doing whatever the hell they wanted; a county seemingly throwing up its hands, abandoning the place as a lost cause and, later, deleting its residency code enforcer position for years; and radicalized times in general -- between all these, respect for the rule of law in the Vista could get on pretty shaky ground.
More examples: as mentioned, some less than civic-minded entrepreneurial residents, as well as invasive outsiders, routinely poached trees from vacant lots to sell as firewood, cutting down scores of standing snags, sometimes even felling living trees, including some of the few mature pines that long graced the region, leaving unsightly stumps and slash piles on once-pristine parcels. (A forestry department rep once showed the writer a regional map with a rash of hundreds, if not thousands, of red dots, each dot representing an illegal cut.) Another party set up a huge dog-rescue kennel on unimproved, treeless land in section 21; neighbors up to half a mile away suffered the endless barking of the unhappily caged residents, often baking in the sun, for over a year until the operation was finally shut down.
Bolder souls tried taking the law into their own hands. When a resident towards the top of White Drive discovered a surveyor had made an error decades earlier on his lot boundaries, he tried to close off the major through road outright with a sign-posted gate -- despite it being ages too late to legally remedy the error. One scofflaw neighbor who regularly used the road didn't think twice when encountering the sudden barrier: he backed up his bad-boy truck and smashed his way through, problem solved.
Yet another neighbor, furious over certain parties routinely roaring by his place, raising clouds of dust just to tick him off, one evening furtively dug a slanted trench across the road. That night they sped by as usual, promptly lost control and ran into a tree. Walking back, stunned and furious, to confront him, he shot at them, missing, and was later arrested. On another occasion a resident, seeing red on learning his outlaw neighbor was hitting on his young teen daughter, descended on the culprit's land late at night while he was known to be on vacation in jail. The father and others he rounded up then proceeded to wreck and loot the place to a fare-thee-well. And when a Black man briefly occupied a vacant stone cottage on McLarty Road and was discovered by the owner late at night, the latter held a shotgun on him for some 40 minutes until the sheriff deputy finally arrived.
Obviously the place's auspicious start during simpler times, with its relatively homogeneous, convention-minded, law-abiding dwellers all sharing a warm bonhomie, had long ago sunk in utter and complete oblivion.
Blame it on the mountain
One could maybe in part blame the energy of the massive mountain for residents not working any better together. Through its natural force field, vortex energy, or whatever one felt it emanated, it was, as mentioned, thought by some to stimulate one's upper chakras. While initially revving up one's wildly visionary imagination, in time it could pull one meditatively inward. Bolstered by the development founder, who as fellow camper in the early years also relished the freedom to do whatever wanted on the land (within prevailing law-abiding limits, of course), the mountain's influence could work to make one feel their parcel was a veritable Fortress of Solitude.
Long after the honeymoon camping years faded into history and increasingly casual, quasi homesteading took off in earnest, people in the 1990s for a while actually campaigned to get voted onto the board. While some no doubt hoped to somehow mellow the place -- maybe willing to turn a blind eye to unenforceable county ordinances if residents were otherwise peaceable -- hoping to make the best of a bad situation, others, still grinding the ax over blatant code violations, were still loaded for bear, bound and determined to reinforce the now age-old, wary hardline stance on unsanctioned dwellings, illicit dwellers, and pretty much anyone who even looked at them cross-eyed.
This relatively community-active period passed soon enough. Fast-forward a decade and the place was so overwhelmed with non-compliant, often anarchistic, sometimes outlaw, residents that it entered the dispirited period of pronounced civic indifference. A lawless air, in good part perhaps only reflecting the times' high national crime rate, was punctuated by helpless wails from the code compliant of “What’s happening to this place?”
Lost in a fog, we'd become a ship at sea without sail or rudder, aimlessly adrift. "Water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink."
Rambunctious Whitney Creek
This, even as in supreme irony residents periodically had to scramble to keep snow melt and mud out from next door's seasonally running, sometimes rampaging, Whitney Creek that flooded parts of the adjacent section 28 lowlands. The Association had long ago sued the Forest Service for allowing the course of the creek -- actually more a snow melt wash -- to be diverted towards the new subdivision by removing a dam built above highway 97 by people in the area that later became Lake Shastina and who no longer had need of it -- or even wanted to deal with it.
The ensuing periodic floods washed out vulnerable Vista roads and adjoining parcels. The development won the suit, and the quarter-million dollar settlement went to funding the massive earthen berms, still along Buckhorn Road and Rising Hill Road, to protect the place from future flooding. Between summer bulldozing efforts to repair erosion from previous year's water action and the creek cutting new courses through the silt now and then, it was mostly diverted out of harm's way.*
* But not always. In August 2022, part of the berm was again breached after prolonged, record 100 degree weather generated extraordinary amounts of snow melt (plus likely glacier melt), flooding land on both sides the of berm and prompting a Code Red evacuation alert.
Bored writer joins the board
In the early 2010s, after over 30 years feeling little fondness indeed for the board -- at times being demonized by some of its members in return, short fuses being common all around -- the writer warmed to the notion of actually serving on it. At the time volunteering for the board had hit an all-time low. It was hard-pressed to fill out more than three of its five seats, three being the legal minimum needed to legally conduct essential business, like approving road maintenance outlays.
They weren't too picky about who volunteered just so long as one was a code-compliant resident. If not rallying, the place could go into dread state receivership as a failed subdivision and face monumentally unpleasant and costly consequences. As I was one of only a few who even sporadically attended monthly meetings, one evening in 2012 I got roped into serving on it as secretary by president Pamela Simpson before I even knew it.
While it turned out the development's actually defaulting was never a serious threat, it had at least flirted with such an ignominious fate from time to time. It could feel like no one at all cared what happened to the place. No one appreciated or respected how various residents were volunteering their time to try to meet the state's mandate to help the place along by doing what needed to be done. Or were jaundiced over the whole structure of the place and the state mandates hamstringing Vista livability. For all their troubles, volunteers were vilified as power-crazed busybodies.
With so many members -- resident and absentee alike -- routinely damning the board or at the least being supremely indifferent and non-supportive to it, all but its more determined and thick-skinned members burned out fast, becoming either overwhelmed, jaded and/or embittered in record time. Those who hung in could, over time, become charred remnants of former selves, sleepwalking through meetings, but, like a dog with a bone, determined not to let go of the reigns, for fear no one could or would could replace them and do a credible job. Indeed, from time to time the board did attract volunteers who had shameless private agendas in mind to use the place to their own best advantage or who idly sought some dubious prestige being a member might bestow without having to do much work for the honor.
As the writer was to learn, the board's pressure-cooker meetings could be detrimental to one's peace of mind. One had to be in full psychic armor, as it were, ready for battle if some outraged resident attended to vent his or her spleen. Or, alternately, endure soul-crushing boredom. And one could sometimes be made to feel like cannon fodder, if, for instance, told by the manager to sign a stack of legal foreclosure papers on property owners who'd given up on the place or were in dire financial straits, or both.
One struggled to rise above the endless sea of paperwork and dry formal meeting procedure -- endured in the cramped, cold-fluorescent lit firehouse backroom -- if hoping to accomplish anything one might conceivably be proud of. Spirits usually were subdued, sometimes to the point of our seeming to be in clinical group depression. It was as if everyone felt the thankless grand futility of it all, but plugged away anyhow out of a misplaced sense of civic duty.
All is futile...
born under a dark star?
No doubt like many well-meaning board members before and after me, I'd hoped to somehow help turn the place around. The situation just seemed so ridiculously depressing, so needlessly downbeat, so all-is-futility. Surely it wouldn't take much to break free of such a dispirited operation. While some of my eventual newsletter features and editorial write-ups seemed appreciated, the boat had, by then, not only left the dock but sailed half way around the world. The die was cast. The dismal course was set. The key lost. Barring some miracle, the situation appeared so irreversibly dire it was purely wishful thinking to imagine members could ever pull themselves out of the hopeless quagmire we found ourselves in.
We were dinosaurs stuck in a tar pit, lamenting our sorry fate.
Though mindful visitors over time might've sensed the land's special healing qualities -- some overnighters reported having the best dreams of their lives -- cynics, not without some justification, came to dismiss the beleaguered realm out of hand with a sneer: “No water, no trees, nothing but desert and rattlesnakes.” It was just a cheap, substandard rural bedroom community; a hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks; maybe a few more respectable, hardworking residents hoping to play out their elusive dream of idyllic country living and obviously having built in the wrong place...
The way so many came to routinely slam the place, one might've thought it born under a dark star, a wicked witch’s cauldron boiling over with gnarly contention. Any effort to reverse its dismal destiny was folly. Resistance was futile.
A bit of esoterica:
Vista's astrology and cardology
Those into astrology might appreciate the celestial forces at work the day the place legally came into being, November 3, 1965. This calendar date was the birthday of TV's Scorpion Rosanne Barr, along with football's Collin Kaepernick and actor Charles Bronson. Some might say the resulting brooding, super-wound energies imprinted on the development at its moment of birth practically guaranteed the place would always be a tad on the intense side. (Lightening the mix, both Mars and Venus were in nature-loving Sagittarius, along with a compassionate, dreamy Pisces moon.)
Then there's cardology, the study of planetary influences forming a unique DNA signature for each day of the year and symbolized by a playing card (some days sharing the same card). Its 4 of diamonds birthday, according to the book Cards of Destiny by Sharon Jeffers, created "innate restlessness, possible dissatisfaction with what one was doing," and could make one "...a dreamer who doesn't always allow dreams to become reality."
The last surely fit the Vista to a T.
Somewhere along the way the once openly shared, carefree vacation land had reached a critical tipping point, a watershed moment. It passed the point of no return. Scofflaw residents were determined to do their own thing, and hundreds of landholders with buyer remorse had little or no interest in the place except to cash out. The scene got so sketchy, next to no one was any longer building to code. (Why bother when the county dropped its residential code enforcer position and a code-built place couldn't fetch much in the realty market for being in such a sketchy place?) All these daunting factors, heaped together along with all the rest, would converge over time to create the perfect storm.
The coalescing situation was already letting any so inclined have a field day pursuing whatever dubious land uses they might dream up -- junk yards, dog kennels, meth labs -- for being off private dirt roads, tucked far away from all but the prying eyes of maybe a few nosy neighbors. No matter such dubious uses upset the peace and quiet and country solitude of those compliant who'd dropped anchor for and invested decades of blood, sweat and tears in establishing homesteads. The wayward realm was, clearly, becoming anything goes.
Without any more pro-active, harmonizing force, one with at least a semblance of community concern and respect for the rule of law, a lawless spirit was gaining an outsize influence over the place. The majority of less invested residency, used to the place being dysfunctional -- a quirky, low-key hideaway with a powerless board and unresponsive county authorities -- either couldn't, or wouldn't, read the writing on the wall. The place was leaving the door wide open for even greater calamities.
One didn't need the omniscience of 20-20 hindsight to realize that by the early teens two things were crystal clear: our lotus land was a rudderless ship left vulnerable to drifting into perilous straits; and residents either didn't care or felt powerless to do anything to safeguard an enviable rural lifestyle.
It was taken for granted.
The Vista thru Time
Further reflections on peculiar
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Knowing where the Vista came from could go a long ways in understanding where it went. Had the place’s metaphorical foundation, as it were, gone full circle? First tents and trailers, set on sand; then evolving to conventional homes, built on rock; then going sideways to trailers and makeshift shelters -- set on sand once again.
Whatever happened, all along the lack of water played a major role. Klamath River County Estates (KRCE) landowner Will Jensen, long ago reporting in a blog covering an exhaustive search to find the ideal rural home property with inspiring Mt. Shasta view, noted, “No matter who we talked to we were warned away from Mt. Shasta Vista...we were told repeatedly that Mt. Shasta Vista was bad for wells…”
To try to remedy the chronic water shortage, in the early 2000s a few solution minded residents applied for a government grant to fund their proposed centralized water distribution system. It was rejected, deemed too much effort and expense to help too few. (More on water situation in part 6.)
Back to the ‘80s
By the mid 1980s Vista’s resident population had grown to maybe 150 or 200 residents. Scattered over the vastness of some seven square miles of high-desert woodlands, it was still a mere sprinkling; the development was still worlds away from even beginning to get built out. Dwellers still felt like land barons, especially if on parcels far from the relative concentration of structures amid the few power lines -- and the highway.
Some city owners were seemingly addicted to paved roads and adverse to the idea of rugged, shiny, all-terrain pick-up trucks getting dust on them and so could't get into driving five miles over often narrow, winding cinder roads to reach properties in the furthest reaches. A half mile of country backroad was enough to endure and not fret about ruining the latest car wash. It seemed the desire for seclusion was outweighed by the desire for easy and fast in and out. So, between the sparse dwellings, some clumped near to each other, others scattered in the deep hinterlands, there was a grand buffer of over a thousand empty parcels. This lent many regions a decidedly tranquil, park-like ambiance.
No matter how much pristine land one might’ve enjoyed, though, it seemed a dangerous undercurrent forever lurked just below the surface. One that could jam one’s peace of mind and ability to any better experience the elusive joys of country living. Between the region never accepting the place and the hellbent resolve of imperious code-compliant residents waging war on code violators, one always seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if one was compliant, an almost palpable tension could fill the air. On the subtle it felt like one was living in a crowded tenement, angry landlord pounding on the door.
It was one of the grand ironies of living in the Vista. Either you detached and became philosophical about it all or you found yourself perhaps over-identifying with artist Munch’s screamer.
It would drive more than a few to drink.
Missing word sank efforts
About 2012, a way overdue effort was launched by some of the more civic-minded residents. A committee was formed to try to revise the woefully outdated CC&Rs. Not overhaul them, but at least tinker around the edges to try to make them a bit more relevant. After much slow sledding, a glitch in a progress report sent out to everyone promptly sank all efforts. The pamphlet cover’s title was supposed to read: “Proposed Changes to Mt. Shasta Vista Bylaws”. The all-critical first word was, of course, left out, making the changes sound like a done deal.
This prompted a barely peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd to storm the next monthly board meeting. Residents who normally avoided meetings like the plague came out of the woodwork. They suspected the forever maligned property owners board was trying to stage some sort of coup.
Long and winding roads;
part-time Whitney Creek revisited
While you had your own private parcel, the modest annual ‘road dues’ assessments were, again, deeply resented and even contested by those not getting their own roads better maintained (if at all). Various absentee owners, as said, had added to the chorus, claiming they could barely reach their parcels located in more remote and unsettled regions because their roads hadn’t been touched in ages. Most-neglected stretches could develop deep dry pools of tire-grabbing, quicksand-like silt, so bad AAA tow trucks eventually refused to come out to rescue trapped vehicles after once getting their own rig got stuck in turn and a monster tow truck having to be called in.
It didn’t help matters that summertime neighbor Whitney Creek, rambunctious when temperatures soared to 90 or 100 degree F. weather and melted a heavy winter's snow pack, could cut new courses and flood its banks. It once actually put most of Section 28 under nine inches of water, forcing an evacuation and making regional TV news. The worst of the many floods over time until a massive earthen berm was finally built, it washed away some area's roads so badly the board abandoned them outright and eventually bought the parcels of those who could no longer reach their parcels short of driving a Hummer. They figured it was cheaper than having to keep rebuilding the remote, little used roadways. Three-fourths of Rising Hill Road, southernmost road in the Vista, no longer exists, and the area is still vulnerable to flood. Delivery people and first-timers using an obsolete map probably still get confused, looking for the phantom road.
Train wreck of a place
Vistan parcel holders by and large were a frugal lot: bought the land cheap, moved in cheap, wanted to keep things cheap. Many had stand alone inclinations. It seemed futile to even try to build a sense of community with such a bare-bones, ornery social climate. The situation was (yet again) seriously compounded by the sea of absentee owners who kept parcels as investments, then came to feel their holdings as an albatross about their collective necks for the ouchy annual assessment fee and chronic sleeper-market conditions. Their disenchantment with the place further arrested any inclination one might have to try to pull the development out of its discombobulated straits.
At some point, having no legal foundation blueprints with which to build any standard community, the place, caught between a rock and a hard place, simply shorted out. It was a broken development that first-time visitors routinely dropped their jaws over. It was such a spectacularly failed, "left for dead", train wreck of a place, set amid otherwise often charming backwoods, that it struck many as surreal. Like some long abandoned film set for a budget Western gathering mothballs in outdoor storage. Or as if maybe the place had grown too big for its britches, trying to rise above its lowly station born to, and was paying the price for its rank impertinence.
Those who had early on built code-approved homes -- almost everyone who first moved onto the land -- were pragmatic in assessing the situation early on. They knew it would take everyone following health and building regulations and working together if the development were to continue be a standard community.
Once people started moving in on the cheap, whether displaying innocent "Hey, I'm just building a little vacation cabin here, it's no biggie" airs, or more defiant, "Whadarya goin' to do about it, hee-hee?" attitudes, no matter. They knew their one-time retirement hideaway faced mortal danger. With residents dishonoring the rules, Its very survival depended on the county stepping in with no-nonsense code enforcement.
Failing that, the place was toast.
Still a nice place to live, kinda sorta
Over time, the realm -- now a broad, haphazard mix of approved living structures and unsanctioned, makeshift dwellings and derelict trailers -- stabilized, of sorts. It became perhaps not too unlike a quarter-risen cake that stopped rising in the oven, partially collapsed, dried out and solidified. Though caught between worlds, it was de facto recycled, its residency becoming a bit like hermit crabs, moving in among the abandoned rec land shells. Many and sundry came to consider it a nice place to live, despite all. Sure, it was a failed subdivision, but it was our failed subdivision.
Living in the Vista was like wearing a comfy if disreputable-looking old pair of sneakers yet to develop any worrisome holes in the soles.
No such kind regard was felt by most of the now some eighty percent of property holders constituting the absentee membership scattered all over the nation. They were clearly not enjoying the land. Some, possibly hoping for a miraculous turnaround, had, as said, clung to title deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and doubling down, shelling out each year for upkeep of roads they never drove on lest their land be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time.
This churn rate of lot ownerships created extra billing time for the salaried manager processing the sea of legal paperwork, driving up association dues plus generating quick commissions for expedient realtors who kept low-keyly offering the embarrassment of beleaguered lots as sleeper land steals to the gullible and undiscriminating land-hungry. They often didn't have to say a word; the remote dirt-cheap lots with fabulous views and exceptional seclusion sold themselves.
Meanwhile, absentee parcel holders, like characters in Waiting for Godot, stood by, waiting for values to rise so they might finally lose the clunkers at a decent profit. Or the place finally got itself together beyond its sketchy schitzy state so they might enjoy the lots, too.
ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views
Earliest campers in the newly formed wonderland savored it like fine wine. In spring the realm delighted the eye with surprise splashes of lavender, purple, red, and yellow wildflowers. Rich lichen moss on aging and dead junipers seemed almost magical, dazzling the eye with its bright, near-phosphorescent green. After rains the pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was mother nature's perfume.
Abundant wildlife included deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, plentiful birds, ever-friendly and curious chipmunks, less friendly polecats, porcupines and, yes, rattlesnakes; a rare mountain lion and other wildcats; tiny, endangered kangaroo rats with their impossibly long tails, hopping about at dusk...
The place's first vacationers returned home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to the shared wilderness hideaway and all the improvements they’d work on during rendezvous with friends new and old, eager to make the new private retreat nicer for all.
Seldom heard: a discouraging word
The early parcel owners gathered at night to enjoy campfire get-togethers. Coyotes sometimes yipping up a storm in the distance no doubt time-warped the more suggestible back to the days of the Old West, prompting spontaneous choruses of “Home on the Range”, "Red River Valley" or maybe "I've Been Working on the Railroad." And they enjoyed daytime potlucks and barbecues under the unfailing majesty of Mt. Shasta’s northern side, offering such staggering views that local photographer Keven Lahey would later race over to snap spectacular, almost surreal, lenticular clouds flying off it, or an impossibly huge one hovering above it like a mothership.
Judging by the writings in the association's twice-annual Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared euphoric waves of feelgoodness that swept the land during those rarefied purple-haze days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (along with gnarly uprisings, wars and protests, of course).
...and the saucers flew by-y-y all night
Even if one was a hard-line Nam war hawk, hostile to the emerging counterculture with its sometimes outlandish, convention-jarring, free-minded ways, spirits ran high...no doubt aided and abetted by their own mind-altering drug of choice, alcohol. And the group buzz might’ve been further heightened by something quite extraordinary: unknowingly copping a contact high from parties aboard the then-frequent UFOs sighted darting about the mountain and nationally reported on.
The embryonic community might have gained a rarefied super-charge from curious advanced extra-terrestrial beings checking out the singing earth people camped out on the mountain's then still sleepy side.
To any susceptible to the subtle charms of the land -- magnified for being under the mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise, one new parcel holders naturally worked on to make the place nicer. Light-duty cinder roads were immaculately groomed by the membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers planted at highway entrances, the welcoming archway lifted up. As recounted, group civic improvement efforts seemed to peak on establishing the de facto community well and extending power lines to parcels that owners had committed to drilling approved wells as the first step to gaining residency. (Covered in depth next part.)
It’s said in metaphysical thinking that the imprint of earliest inhabitants on a land establishes a subtle vibration signature it then forever resonates with -- no matter what might later happen on it. If accepting this as possible... Prehistoric indigenous people had seasonally hunted game here but didn’t settle, probably over lack of water and not daring live so close to such a powerful and sacred mountain. Beyond them and the isolated first white settlers on the land ,like Eli Barnum by Sheep Rock in the 1850s and later hunters and livestock grazers, it might be said that the first major indelible imprint on the land was made by none other than the modern-day-pioneering Vistans in the mid to late 1960s.
If true, they bestowed on the land an euphoric, industrious, conservative yet somewhat topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature the land henceforward always resonated with, even if getting buried under the surface by future events. (Another example: often wild, free-spirited San Francisco: reportedly in nice weather its first inhabitants loved nothing better than to roll about in the mud and then run around naked.)
Apart from such possible influences, whenever a mindful visitor unwound and tuned into the land they could sense a pronounced soft, almost-otherworldly dreamland quality about it. In spots beyond earshot of highway wash, no jets droning overhead or rumbling train in the distance, the land held a profoundly deep quietude. One might've felt they actually heard the earth breathing. Repeat visitors and residents alike, once adapting to the at first sometimes eerie silence, came to embrace the tranquil realm like a long-lost lover. (Explorers of Pluto Caves, just beyond one of the Vista's border, might've experienced something of this etheric quality.)
Naturally, the dreamy atmosphere came with a downside. Tenuous new residents, wowed by the woodland parcels bought for a song, could get so caught up in rich fantasies that they never integrated being here with doing what was needed to be done to get things legally squared away and so give their brainstorms a chance to actually manifest. Instead, they remained just so many pipe dreams that the region's rarefied energies seemed to inspire.
Over time countless one-time owners came and went, happy bubbles burst after a few months or years of either ignoring or being ignorant of the mundane realities created and enforced by the powers that be, which legally obligated any would-be resident to first establish a certain standard of living...until they were suddenly shocked awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.
It was phenomenal. The serene, almost mystical land kept grabbing newbies as affordable and enchanting, getting them wildly enthused over wondrous possibilities, until -- like a 'Star Trek' television episode where the landing team finds a planet that at first appears a wondrous paradise -- they're disillusioned to discover its fatal flaw.
A fine place by George;
speculations on why things went so south
Developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than other earlycomers, actually joined vacationers during the first visiting-only years. He became the glue that held the place together, being midwife, cheerleader, first board president and daddy moneybags all rolled into one. He informally pitched in with funds and resources to help the place along at every turn. “...I consider myself privileged to be a neighbor to each and every one of you,” he said with apparent sincerity in an early newsletter, going on to wax poetic how the place was “...our home away from home, our frontier, our Shangri-la...there should be a constant flurry of barbecue parties, coffee klatches and just informal get-togethers all through the year.”
While he might’ve only developed a bare-bones recreational subdivision -- one lacking critical infrastructure to facilitate ever growing into anything more and causing endless headache and heartbreak for countless of the latter-day would-be community -- at least he wasn't just some disinterested land developer who took the money and ran.
He was central in the place's beginnings on so many levels that other property owners undoubtedly got used to the place being in his capable hands. To some degree they maybe became something like passive land tenants, dependent on him to do whatever needed to be done, "Let George do it" effectively became the response to any matters cropping up. He was in essence the place's benevolent overlord, doing all the heavy lifting, sparing everyone else the bother. In return, he was acknowledged as the main man by his willing, grateful subjects. As a result, so long as he stayed in the picture few probably felt motivated or empowered to ever take on any major matters themselves to further organize and grow the place according to their own lights.
When he finally faded from the picture (for reasons uncertain), new owner residents, their 'father' having abandoned them, suddenly had to scramble. Left to their own devices, they were faced with a steep learning curve, assuming responsibilities and dealing with ongoing realities, some of which they probably never knew existed, now staring them in the face. One might speculate that it was at this point that the association began to founder. They'd been abandoned by their captain and were left struggling to keep bearings and steer a course under their own steam while having to bail like crazy to stay afloat.
Over time, the development might've now and then gotten back on track (as much as a track even existed) under more on-the-ball, altruistic board members who'd scramble to get things tenuously up to speed once tackling remedial catch-up work. Then it'd derail again under the endless shuffle of new, sometimes less motivated, capable and/or knowledgeable resident volunteers. There was always a lot of slow, on-the-job training involved. By the time new volunteers got the lay of the land they were often burned out, and so the learning process began all over again with other newbies from an ever-shrinking pool of willing residential volunteers.
One might wonder if perhaps originally Collins did have loftier ambitions for the place and had considered launching an actual, infrastructure-supported residential development. Or if he'd only decided to try playing catch up on seeing how next door Lake Shastina was suddenly going full-tilt residential, as well as other Mt. Shasta area rural developments taking off about the same time. Perhaps he'd thought it was too far from town, amid a sparsely populated farming community, with water too scarce to attract enough people to want to actually live here -- but then later changed his tune, feeling it might indeed be a nice place to retire to "bye 'n' bye". The pipe-dreaming mountain influence likely had him under its spell no less than others.
Maybe he'd begun to hope the place would become an actual rural community, despite not having dealt with water, electricity and waste disposal needs (let alone any more far-seeing CC&Rs) to support such an evolution at the front end. Then he lost heart when inevitable squabbles erupted once people began digging in and actually dropping anchor and getting territorial and testy.
It was always easy to come but go but hard to stay. From parcel holders' perspective and knowledge, perhaps the first real trouble in paradise was over the power and light fund (covered in next part). Various owners wanting to move on the land realized they had to forge ahead on their own steam, each needing to supply their own water, power and septic at great expense, and so started telling him where to get off. He'd perhaps become little more than a tiresome cheerleader by then. Feelings hurt after all he'd done to help the place come into being, he might've at last just said the hell with it and his blessing turned into a curse.
Or maybe the grand parting of the ways happened later (if still here, writer's not sure exactly when he exited the picture), over the gnarly clashes beginning to brew between code compliant dwellers and outlaw builders. If so, he might've come to the sad realization that the rural county simply wasn't equipped to keep a handle on residential compliance, despite the most dedicated efforts of code-legal residents to work with authorities. Foreseeing this thorny dilemma -- maybe even taking heat for indirectly having allowed such a thing to happen -- he beat a hasty retreat and his and others' vision for the place began a sad, irreversible decline into nothingness.
In any event, something seemed to happen between Collins and his one-time fellow vacationing lot owners now emerging as independent homesteaders that turned the wine into vinegar. Something -- or series of somethings -- changed the tenor of the ephemeral idyllic kingdom from dreamland to emerging nightmare.
Lookin' for a sign in the road maze
Vista’s raw parcels on a per-acre basis were some ten times cheaper than those of next door's exurb of Lake Shastina, started a couple years later in 1968. The Vista first attracted an equally solvent if more rough-and-ready vacationing camper crowd than the second-home buyer group Lake Shastina's developers initially wooed with its full-on infrastructure and relative closeness to town amenities.
Road signs were critical inside Vista's endless 66 mile maze. Even longtime residents like the writer could get lost if hazarding off one's accustomed route. One night driving, I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea where I was. On getting to an intersection and spotting a stenciled 4X4 wooden road sign post, I climbed out and shone my flashlight on it, expecting to regain my bearings with the help of trusty road map. The painted lettering had faded to illegibility, done in by the elements, and I was still lost in a place I'd called home for decades.
Second generation signs were small, four-foot tall vertical metal affairs that soon rusted out. Delinquents would steal them -- and the third generation's tall, elaborate, rust-proof, reflective green metal signs too. Perhaps they felt the latter's slick, citified quality clashed with the place's rustic ambiance. Or they just wanted to make it harder for anyone to find them if they didn't want to be found, leaving those unfamiliar with the roads feeling so lost, they'd give up the search and switch focus to try finding their way out of the labyrinth.
Place 'haunted' by sheer number
of 'phantom' parcel owners
As said (probably too often), many lot holders never set foot on their properties. They'd snapped them up in pure speculation -- and maybe for the excitement of gaining bragging rights of owning a piece of the golden state -- hoping either eventual improvements like central piped water and extended power lines would finally skyrocket parcel values, or that, at the very least, they'd have something interesting to leave their family.
Over the decades property titles traded like so many baseball cards at school recess. If each parcel on average changed hands just three times over its first 50 years (probably an underestimate), the place up to 2015 had experienced a rotating ownership of some 5,000 individuals, from all over the nation. If you include two family members per parcel also getting involved, the number increased to some 15,000 people each holding varied interest in the place.
That's a lot of absentee ownership. One guaranteed to permanently keep the place more than a little sketchy around the edges. It seemed it was always more about being a congregation of commercial commodities -- simple stand-alone camp grounds soon all but obsolete -- than any place with a vision and determination to work together to ever grow an actual community.
Once the original retiree clique faded away and a diverse population came to dominate, civic interest all but disappeared over time. Many latter-day newcomers who'd first plugged in and involved themselves experienced the realm's dread undertow and resulting Mt. Everest of inertia. Such forces shattered dreams and lent an overwhelming sense of futility to ever bother trying to fix anything. The place was like a big budget movie, where everything went wrong soon after a promising start, the project's creative vision never realized.
Initially involved newcomers either gave up in shocked disillusionment or hastily dialed back their involvement. The few undeterred, more thick-skinned and unwavering could appear like so many Don Quixotes, valiantly tilting at an army of windmills.
By the Vista’s fiftieth anniversary, in November 2015 -- a milestone noted by few, if any, much less celebrated -- absentee parcel owners still outnumbered residents seven to one. For residents to get involved in such a crazy-quilt of mostly absentee owners indifferent to the realities and needs of the few actually calling the place home, many just passing through slowly, appeared a losing proposition.
Setting the standard
As related, the first wave of firstcomers, maybe seven or so couples, were recent retirees flush with cash from selling their city homes. They were psyched at the prospect of becoming something of modern day pioneers by establishing a retirement community in the near wilderness.*
*Among them the Nortons, Sheltons, and Smothermons. The last surviving one, Bill Waterson, died at his Meadow Road home in 2015 at age 98; future residents claimed they sensed his spirit haunting the place. (Note how all names ended with '-on.')
They nurtured hopes of the place blossoming into a respectable relaxed backwoods community. One they, as founding members, would've established a comfortable living standard that other retirees would be attracted to and naturally want to emulate.
But its very success as a bonafide community hinged on every newcomer generating their own infrastructure and conforming to health and building codes.
“You gotta permit for that?"
Health and building codes were then rigorously enforced in Siskiyou County. The first wave of owner builders, staunch, law abiding citizens, never thought twice about conforming. They'd jump through every last hoop (albeit some no doubt some gritting their teeth). Anyone else wanting to stay longer than 30 days a year -- ostensible legal limit for staying on unimproved property anywhere in California -- had to earn the right, just as they had, by gum. It was only fair.
Seeing how such firstcomers soon went so bonkers as various parcel owners overextended camp visits into permanent occupational forces to be reckoned with, the philosophical might've thought it more than a bit odd. The place, after all, had started out by championing primitive rec properties. Now it was now busting the chops of anyone for camping too long like they were a plague on the land. The fact that it had turned a full 180 degrees -- residents becoming so wary of owners camping out, especially if seeing structures suspiciously going up and mobiles rolling in overnight, that they furtively checked on them like so many wanted criminals, keeping track of permissible days left before throwing them under the bus in righteous fury -- was a situation rich with irony.
The place had started as do-your-own-thing recreational lots, then began transforming into a residential community, then the overall purpose of the development became so muddled it ended up supporting neither.
The Vista Through Time
Continuing informal history, tales and reflections on
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years
Power to the people
In the early 1970s, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund. In order to turn the place into a backwoods community, or even just to accommodate power-thirsty trailer devices, one needed to supply the primitive land with the magic elixir so much of humanity was hooked on: electricity.
The initial impetus was to extend power to parcels whose owners had committed to building to code once bringing in a well. But apparently so many got enthused over developer Collin's vision of building actual retirement homes here, maybe forming a little laid-back retirement enclave, that ambitions grew rapidly. Suddenly some wanted to electrify the whole dang place. A volunteer assessement was levied. While contribution to the fund was strictly optional, the power company, on the strength of developer Collins’s assurances he’d work to get everyone on board, made tentative commitment to extend power to every single lot in the entire subdivision.
The place was reaching another critical turning point: If everyone went along, it would be well on its way to developing into an actual, full-on living community. It would've met one of the three crucial infrastructure needs, along with water supply and waste disposal.
It was on the verge of leaving its simple recreational-use beginnings behind and reinventing itself.
But nothing comes easy. While three in four -- some 1,200 owners -- got on board with the plan and ponied up, a quarter of the membership rebelled. They refused to chip in. This despite the membership newsletter's pleaful pitch from Collins that began, "I know you each bought a lot out in the middle of nowhere so you could do with it whatever you damn well please, but...", then going on to encourage holdouts to reconsider. To no avail.
Some had no doubt decided they were fine enjoying the primitive parcels just the way they were, thank you very much. They relished roughing it and probably felt unsightly power lines and poles would only despoil the scenery and erode the place's wild charm. They'd bought the land cheap for simple vacation use and didn't want to try making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Many probably never had intentions to do with the land more than rough in a road to their lots and build a stone campfire ring, maybe an outhouse. The whole idea of the place was to camp simply, away from the complexities of modern civilization (like electrical dependency), get back to basics, recharge and push the reset button.
Arguably, most of those refusing to chip in were disinterested absentee-owner speculators. They no doubt by then had second thoughts on the seeming boondoggle they'd gotten themselves involved in. Property values weren't increasing appreciably, and the thrill was gone. They' soured on the place, loathe to sink another cent into what now looked like a money pit. Likely some reasoned that getting power to every lot in itself wouldn't be enough to increase the parcels' market values due to the iffy water and sometimes problematic waste disposal. Maybe their disenchantment was in part born of a skepticism many would ever want to live out in the middle of nowhere so far from accustomed city conveniences.
Sorry, out of luck
So the fund was a limited one. It was first come, first served, good only til it was gone. After a few dozen would-be owner-builders -- actually jazzed at the idea of living in the middle of nowhere -- went for it, the fund went dry. The power company, having anticipated a flood of new, power-guzzling customers, then backed out of its previous tenuous commitment. They'd been discouraged anyhow by the frequent drill bit-shattering lava rock strata they encountered, which required expensive replacements. (A similar problem was experienced by some owners trying to excavate workable conventional septic systems.)
Before the tide turned and efforts aborted, the power company had planted tall street lamps at all five highway A-12 entrances. But the beacons, which gave off an eerie cold bluish glow, kept getting shot out by rowdy locals. No doubt their tribe was still fulminating over the subdivision ever getting the green light. They no doubt took keen a delight for being able to sabotage the place without having to leave the blacktop. After a few such persistent rounds of target practice and consequent repairs, the power company gave up and the road lamps were removed. The entrances were once again obscured by darkness after nightfall.
All told, maybe some ten to fifteen percent of the 1,641 parcels got connected to the grid. No doubt some owners who'd contributed to the fund -- assuming everyone would -- became bitter and sold in disgust. Or kept their lots, but were furious over a sorry course of events in which they'd effectively subsidized others to become legal residents while they were left out in the cold. When some of the latter were ready to build, they'd be told sorry, out of luck, fund's dry, and the power company would then quote them a five-figure estimate to extend lines that turned them apoplectic over the development whose ownership failed to work in unison.
Add this teeth gnashing to the place's growing contentious spirit and atmosphere of discombobulation.
Place didn't catch the solar-electric wave
Later, the place would miss a sure bet not embracing solar electricity. What with its enviable banana-belt micro-climate and solar technology in time plummeting set-up costs some ten-fold, it seemed a perfect way to go. It could be so sunshiny here on some March days, one might be soaking up the rays while in Weed, a mere fifteen miles away, hunched-over snow shovelers still wistfully dreamed of spring. The first solar electric system was installed by 1970s' resident Brian Green, co-founding photographer of the soon thriving HomePower magazine.* (In contrast to the Vista, not far away McCloud region’s Shasta Forest subdivision was much further from power lines, yet its lot owners, dutifully code-compliant, came to embrace solar full tilt as a more affordable -- and more environmentally friendly -- alternative.)
*While the later owner of Brian Green's home would lose the place to the Lava Fire of 2021, one thing would miraculously survive unscathed: the latest bank of solar panels. Safely perched above on its metal stand in a clearing amid otherwise total devastation, it looked like nothing at all was amiss as far as it was concerned.
Writer in 1989 became one of two Vista residents to fully embrace solar. In my case, it was sunshine or bust -- no backup generator -- which even now powers this online article's periodic reworking. (For anyone curious, a HomePower story on my modest system was featured in issue #30, an example of a successful small set-up to show you didn't have to spend a fortune to create an off-grid system if content with just a few electrical amenities.)
While many hit good water, often between some 175 to 350 feet or so, the wells of others were plagued with iron levels that dyed laundry pink or arsenic levels that made drinking the water a bit dicey.* And sometimes Shasta Vista’s underground water table proved FAR deeper -- 700 to 800 feet or more -- in higher elevation areas, like section 23.
*A retired couple on Gilman, a mile from the writer, drilled a well with water having arsenic levels within former acceptable health department limits when treated. Years later, they died, and not very far apart. While writer never learned if arsenic poisoning was determined the cause of their deaths, not long after the county health department sharply reduced future wells' acceptable arsenic levels.
So developer Collins and a group of volunteers got together to establish an informal, de facto community well. They constructed a huge holding tank with an enormous overhead valve that any land owner was welcome to use until their own wells were in, and a spigot to fill up containers during camping stays. He'd sell a water truck to the association for a dollar. Once the truck was eventually switched to fire use only, those with prohibitively deep water tables still found getting wells problematic -- one (ironically, named Waterson) alone had three costly drilling misses -- and so formed the group Property Owners Without Water, or POWW, and got another water truck together.
Closing down the quasi community well
In 1980 it came to light by county health, on the wings of steeper California water-use laws, that the unofficial, never-sanctioned community well was in fact illegal. Plus the water truck wasn't certified for delivering potable water. Department head Dr. Bayuk promptly capped the 26-residence water-truck club membership with an iron fist. He told us at a specially called meeting, held at then board president John Shelton's house on Gilman Road, that he had discretionary powers and would let current POWW members -- but only POWW members -- continue drawing from the well and haul water to homes in light of so many members having sold former homes and bought or built here on realtors’ assurance there was a community well so one needn’t bring in their well before building. (Apparently the building department had been okay with this water delivery system in lieu of a well to have issued so many building permits to well-less parcels.)
However he now insisted all others drill an approved well first, before they could ever get a septic and building permit and thus an official blessing to live on their property. Leastwise, not for more than 30 days a year without being made to feel one was overstaying their welcome by the ever-vigilant 'neighbors' (again, often living many miles away), forever wound up trying to keep the rabble out. He hoped the POWW memberships, nontransferable to any subsequent home buyers, would fade away over time as people either got their wells in, died, or properties sold to new owners who'd then ostensibly have to prove a well before moving into the existing structure.
We were on our honor to comply. But inertia -- ridiculously strong in Vista's manana land -- reigned supreme. Some who were otherwise compliant rather than spring for a well became resigned to hauling water as the price to pay for living here affordably. And the non-compliant got used to hunkering down below radar of snoopy neighbors and the powers that be. People wanted to avoid spending a fortune on drilling efforts that might not even hit water, or good water, or enough water, plus the often-prohibitive expense of getting electric lines strung to power the well pumps.
While POWW membership's water-hauling rights were technically nontransferable, they were seldom -- if ever -- enforced. Decades later, there were still over a half dozen otherwise code-legal homes in one section alone, which water hauling rights had technically been voided ages earlier through property ownership transfers yet current owners were still merrily hauling away. The county apparently didn't like to mess with homes once they passed final inspection. The code enforcers' job was done as far as they were concerned. Never told differently, new homeowners assumed water hauling rights were transferable.
Unfortunately this naturally lent the impression to prospective new residents that one didn't need a well first in order to get a permit to build an approved house. You could build first, then sometime down the road try for a well at your own convenience...or not. This misunderstanding and policy non-enforcement was destined to further add to the world of confusion for future would-be residents: "Hey, lots of places never put in a well, but they got building permits; why can't I?"
While Dr. Bayuk had cautioned Vista board members to prevent anyone from using the suddenly restricted well beyond POWW’s now-closed membership, efforts to control access proved sketchy to none. Naturally, no one wanted to volunteer for guard duty, and fencing off and padlocking access was maybe seen as either unfeasible, impractical. or more work than anyone wanted to mess with.
Maybe later board members either lost track of the order or simply turned a blind eye to it. Perhaps some felt the well represented the one thing property owners had successfully worked on together to build a community, and so should remain available to all. Amid the ensuing confusion and contention, it stood out as a tangible reminder of the place's promising beginning and provided at least a threadbare sense of a working community.
Hey, it came with the property
Fast-forward decades and things were still out of control. Residents on the cheap, below radar, never intending to drill, kept relying on the well. They assumed it was an official, sanctioned community well and a permanent water-rights amenity that came with lot ownership.
One neighbor on Placone Road would make daily drives for a teeming menagerie of farm critters in his ancient Cadillac, backseat removed and crammed full, along with the trunk, with lidded five-gallon buckets and Jerry cans.
Some reportedly copped showers there. Risking a quick shower at the well site, with only sporadic traffic going by 60 feet away, was no doubt felt worth it for the chance to luxuriate in a fast cool down and rehydration on an exotic 95-degree day. As many freer-minded dwellers went about with few or no clothes in the privacy of their remote properties in warmest weather, this isn't as shocking at it might seem; it was the kind of place that, in another time and circumstance, would've made a dandy nudist camp.
Finally, Vista board members, led by then president George Gosting. They were fed up and fearful of getting fined by the state. Or by well-owning residents, outraged how their annual dues were going to replace the pump and cover monthly power bills. They felt they were effectively subsidizing and enabling code noncompliance. So the board came up with a simple solution: get rid of it. They sold it outright, no discussion or prior notice to association members. Done deal, end of story. Except for the unbridled fury of suddenly well-less, mostly fully non-compliant residents, left high and dry.
And they got sued anyhow, by an irate section 23 couple, Alex and Debbie Blume, who had an otherwise code-approved but well-less mobile dwelling on Stewart Road, on far-fetched racketeering charges. They'd perhaps leaned on mistakenly assumed transferable water-hauling rights from the well. In any event, they promptly lost the case and the lawyer got a NEW Cadillac as part payment.
“It’s all a big scam, I tell ya…”
Between earlier, fitfully enforced legal-residency codes and the end of the longtime community well, it must've seemed to non-compliant dwellers suddenly told to get a well or else that an intolerable building moratorium had been clamped on the place. Of course, it was all standard procedure to gain legal residency anywhere in California. But our place always felt exceptional...perhaps for both having such difficult water and being in such remote hinterlands. And maybe, too, for the Vista seeming to be under some dreamland spell. Somehow it just felt beyond the pale of the world and all its sundry nit-picky rules and regulations. It was a realm unto itself, operating on its own unique frequency, penciling in its own rules as residents saw fit...and only suggestions at that.
So various land-hungry buyers on a shoestring, lured by the seeming bargain lands and not exercising due diligence, felt majorly scammed if roused by the county and 'concerned citizens', told they couldn’t live on their properties without first satisfying code requirements. They’d accuse the Association board, management and realtors of all being in cahoots somehow. Like they were churning the problematic, marginal properties for quick gain while keeping an opaque power hold on the place, preying on people's desire to own their own land while aware most buyers intent on settling the parcels couldn't even begin to afford to meet the steep residence requirements, short of winning the lottery or some rich old aunt dying.
The unending cycle, as such parcel buyers saw it: a lot sold after the realtor downplayed how problematic it was to live on it as-is, maybe offering a wink as if to say the rules usually went unenforced; purchaser, disillusioned once getting hassled, quit paying their annual POA assessment; the lot eventually got foreclosed on and the Association, repossessing it, re-listed the parcel and realtors waited for next suc -- er, buyer -- to come along.
In later times probably many buyers DID know the score and just didn’t care. In the changing social climate they were game to join Vista’s growing non-compliant population. It was further emboldened over the county having axed its residential-code enforcer position for a critical five years and then lacking teeth when brought back and still considering the Vista a hopeless case best ignored. The situation easily lent the impression anything went on the remote lands.
Of course it was always Buyer Beware. But you’d think more sporting realtors might’ve at least posted this sobering reminder over their doorways.
People with enough resources to maybe pay $30,000 or more to drill a well and perhaps half again as much to get power extended to the property also had enough to buy land -- and more than any piddly 2-½ acres -- with easier water access and unencumbered by the ceaseless squabblings of disaffected neighbors. Why would anyone spend a fortune to buy into such a discombobulated, sub-standard place?
Cheap land with million-dollar views by themselves only went so far.
Plenty of room left in Hotel California:
Trouble in River City revisited
To recap, Shasta Vista’s founding families had either known each other from down south or met during early annual summer camping vacations. Retirement-age couples, flush with cash from selling their city digs, built most all of the first full-on legal residences. In so doing, territorial imperative being strong, they worked to segue the remote rustic camping lands into their own de facto rural retirement community. (It was a gentility with such pronounced conservative, buttoned down SoCal sensibilities that some, like writer, thought it surreally out of place at the top of more free-wheeling northern California.)
In ways that counted, the Vista became their place for a while They sprang to volunteer and serve on Vista’s board of directors, which ostensible main duty (some maintained only) in the mandated monthly meetings was deciding on budgeting road maintenance and keeping a handle on signage, plus maybe address any member concerns brought to their attention by fellow owners.
The firstcomers experienced such a keen angst seeing their place lose its respectable, legitimate-community quality, they went unhinged. The board’s appointed duties quickly expanded to include blowing the whistle to the county any unapproved construction or camping visits that suspiciously appeared leaning towards permanent, unsanctioned residency.
Desperate to preserve their endangered Shangri-la atmosphere, they rang the phones off the hook, reporting every last infraction. Beside themselves, board members and their cohorts demanded county authorities hold any and all scofflaws’ feet to the fire for having so flagrantly tried sneaking into their law-abiding domain on the cheap.
If enforcers didn’t do their job and the non-compliant got away with it, it would amount to selective enforcement, possible grounds for a lawsuit against the county. So for many years the stretched-thin enforcers dutifully obliged, trying their damnedest to stamp out the problem of the plagued development's growing noncompliance.
At some point they no doubt started grinding their teeth for having to deal with such a major problem child...one whose situation, no matter how much they tried getting a handle on things, remained a bottomless cup of trouble. It was a boat springing new leaks faster than one could plug the old ones and so taking on serious water.
Gone bonkers for their genial scene being violated, compliant residents embraced law and order for all it was worth. Volunteer posses geared up and blitzed the land, patrolling the endless back roads, running to earth anyone trying to call the Vista home yet ignore residential standards -- whether willfully or in ignorance, no matter; the law was the law.
With Whack-a-Mole efforts in overdrive, posse members often wouldn’t even talk to the culprits. They’d maybe tried earlier, some no doubt in an off-putting, high-handed manner, and then got huffy when told what they could do with their regulations. So they'd just drive by, stopping briefly to scope the scene and determine the lot, then get the parcel assessment numbers from the master map index and call in a formal complaint for every minutiae of noncompliance the latest bloodhound efforts had revealed.
It was for such scorched earth campaigning that the unkind moniker of "the gestapo" was bestowed on the board by Vista's more live-and-let-live residents, some of whom had also gone through the compliance ordeal themselves and knew how needless steep code demands were for trying to live in the middle of nowhere. They were stunned such a ugly, zero-tolerance policy existed; playing ruthless hardball somehow just didn't seem to go with the would-be tranquil realm. Even though the place had gotten way off track, one might've thought there had to be a better way to resolve matters. But maybe not. Maybe the situation was so far gone that the only alternative was for the overzealous whistle blowers to accept that the one-time Shangri-la was toast.
That was unacceptable. Even if it appeared to be more and more the irreversible reality with each passing year. Like Egyptian fish, they lived in denial. As a miserable consolation prize, they lived to make things as unpleasant as possible for all who'd crashed their party and ruined it.
Driving around a neighboring section long ago, the writer one day met a high-spirited man and his pregnant partner on their parcel. He'd just thrown up a little makeshift two-story crackerbox palace of 2 X 4's and pressboard: instant home. A goat or two grazing contentedly on nearby brush. I returned with a sense of foreboding a month or two later. Sure enough, they were long gone, their shelter bulldozed to the ground, looking like it'd been hit by a tornado.
It was far from an isolated incident.
One might say it was a person's own fault for not first doing some research on the local situation. Or that they obviously knew the score but had rolled the dice anyhow, thinking it was such cheap, remote land it was worth a shot trying to get away with it and beat the system. Some in time would make a spurious argument that the realtor shouldn't have sold it to them in the first place when obviously knowing their non-compliant intentions.
In any event, many would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating simple affordable backwoods living were obliterated during the Vista’s Intolerable Years, a period, again, roughly spanning from the mid 1970s through most of the 1990s. Here and there half-completed structures of varying ambition and construction skill stood abandoned and forlorn, radioactive from code-violation busts or builders running out of cash trying to comply. In time some would get picked off by furtive lumber 'recyclers'. ("Hey, it's just going to waste; I'm recycling, doncha know.")
Vista’s seemingly affordable, easy-come, easy-go lands over the decades was proving instead to be more of easy-come, hard-go.
Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista, now leave:
writer's first impressions
The large imposing signs planted at each of the place's five county road A-12 entrances, plus every section corner, made the board's policy crystal clear in large black lettering that fairly shouted: HEALTH AND BUILDING CODES STRICTLY ENFORCED.
Woe betide the poor soul failing to heed such a no-nonsense warning.
So along comes your land-hungry writer, a rambling, homeless 29 year-old, a would-be nature boy of threadbare means burned out living on the road with visions of building a bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. With champagne taste and a beer budget, I soon warmed to the notion of actually building in these bone-dry yet unspoiled, super-affordable juniper lands instead of the redwood creekside of my dreams -- to blasted code if that’s what it took, and as meager resources and a steep learning curve would allow. Though it would prove the biggest project of my life til then, at least lumber was fairly cheap and the building code a smidgen less onerous -- if zealously enforced -- and costly to comply with. I planned to join the POWW water-hauling group, thus avoiding having to drill a (likely) deep well that I couldn't have even begun to afford.
To my impressionable mind, the growling entrance signs were of more than passing concern. Even if lots were cheap -- most listed then between $1,500 and $1,750., with easy terms of $250. down and $25./month, at 7-1/2 % interest -- the place appeared more than a smidgen unfriendly. To me the signage seemed to say, “Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista. No this, no that, no the other thing, under penal codes such and such; violators will be hung by their toenails; in fact, we DARE you to even enter this place.”
Or, more directly, “Welcome...not really. Go away!”
On reading the sign's further warning in huge letters, “Private Property -- Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, part of me felt I might be arrested any second. It was as if I’d stumbled onto some top-secret government compound and should turn around while there was still time.
But, as was the case with countless land seekers on a shoestring, the cheap lot prices won over common sense and eclipsed the negative first impressions screaming red alert.
Such sign wording was of course meant to prevent any would-be substandard dwellings, and, perish the thought, white trailer trash, hop-headed bikers, or scraggly hippie types from trying to settle in their still tenuously respectable scene. Also to dissuade any would-be wood poachers, outlaw game hunters, trash dumpers, vehicle abandoners, or miscreants harboring designs of plundering goods trustingly left in trailers and mobile homes on their briefly visited parcels. (Even decades later, with hundreds of residents spread over the land, an huge, 12 X 40 foot vacant mobile got snatched in the dead of night from one lot and hauled two miles to another without consequence.)
Maybe they'd needed that loud bark after all.
...with screenplay by Rod Serling
However...the working Chinese belief system of feng shui holds that the given energy at an entrance sets up a vibration the entire place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording indeed seemed to ripple throughout the realm, especially when reinforced by similar huge warning signs planted at each section corner. Friends visiting me decades later, as if not wanting to tempt fate, would park their vehicle forward of the barking sign and walk the entire way in, over a mile.
Entering the Vista for the first time could be like walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out a plot that seemed in turn scripted by Zane Grey, Rod Serling and J. Edgar Hoover.
That nice welcoming wooden arch once spanning the main entrance? After the writer was in due course favored with his own 'unwelcome wagon', he felt it might just as well have said, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Vista through Time
Conclusion of informal history, remembrances and reflections
of first fifty years of Mount Shasta Vista subdivision
"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only
when we know the path which has led to the present."
-- Adlai E. Stevenson
It perhaps came as no surprise that the Vista entrance sign's less-than-friendly energy was reflected in its monthly board meetings. Open to all parcel owners and family members, the proceedings could be dull as dishwater. But other times they got pretty lively. Shouting matches were common, and once a fistfight actually broke out on the floor.
It was as if the place had grown a deadly cancer that, left unchecked, would fatally metastasize. The swelling tsunami waves of bickering among the malcontent dwellers could be so mind boggling, it would've made rich fodder for gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson: “Fear and Loathing in the Vista.”
The first residents must've felt something like earliest prospectors of the California Gold Rush. While briefly having the diggings to themselves, things turned to pandemonium once the flood of fellow seekers of the prized yellow stone descended en masse. Similarly, earliest Vistans luxuriated in having the domain all to themselves and established their own dominant ways and faith in the system to keep fair-minded order. Like the first gold miners, they would eventually get run over. They became like mad King Lears, shouting commands into the wind.
As more newcomers moved in, some opting to ignore code requirements, the firstcomers briefly still had the ball through a lock on board membership. They ran with it, clinging to it for dear life. They'd dismiss as idiots anyone who took exception to the hardball tactics; they obviously didn't understand the dire gravity of the situation. Beyond desperate, their bottom line was that, come hell or high water, they had no choice but do their damnedest to keep the established regulations enforced to prevent the place from getting ruined.
Desolated and shocked, imperious board members clad themselves in armor, mace and sword at the ready, prepared to engage in full-on, take-no-prisoners battles. For a while at meetings in desperation they tried avoiding public discussion outright on any controversial matter by mumbling “public comments?” out of the side of their mouths before taking a fast vote. "Motion?...second?...all in favor...motion carried." They'd banked on newbies’ unfamiliarity with formal meeting procedure. Shouts of protest once concerned newbie residents got wind of their sneaky maneuver were countered by simpering yells from board supporters: “Robert's Rules! Robert's Rules!”
Despite all, the well-heeled firstcomers’ dream of building a conventional backwoods Shangri-la was fast turning into a nightmare. The Vista was coming apart at the seams before their very eyes.
As more and more settled in the junipers and sagebrush -- many of such modest means and with such free-spirited, often rebellious natures that the notion of building to code wasn't even considered -- the country's code-enforcement officers' response had finally reached a tipping point. Beyond it they were unable and/or unwilling to enforce the codes and ordinances (the very ones that people living in town, nowhere to hide, perforce toed the line on). This despite being duly appraised and constantly updated of the dire situation by the seething mad residency, haranguing them with each newly discovered infraction and a demand for swift action. Taking an early retirement must've started looking tempting.
So it happened that eventually county authorities essentially abandoned code enforcement efforts inside the seemingly misbegotten realm. One got the distinct impression they liked to pretend it simply didn't exist. (Not unlike the place's scofflaw dwellers towards their residential ordinances). That is, beyond the county's property tax collectors'and property assessors, with their unfailing attention to each and every parcel and what was on it.
Before that tipping point was reached, it seemed the only responses made other than for actual emergencies were to the most persistent calls from fuming parties who knew the law and perhaps threatened legal action if they didn't respond. They'd become such pains it was finally easier to drag themselves out and tell the culprits, "Hey, you can't be doing this, you'd better stop or else; we mean it" and hope the admonishment, with threats of dire consequences if failing to comply, would stick. There were times when a sheriff deputy accompanied them to back matters up. Some scofflaws would then indeed clear out, their fantasy of easy cheap country living gone bust. But others, more hardened and rebellious, kept right on living the way they were on their parcels. They thought inertia and property rights, plus county enforcement resources being overwhelmed, would ultimately win the battle.
White bread outpost?
Though some might've experienced mixed feelings towards firstcomers over their seething intolerance of substandard construction and sanitation, one couldn't help but sympathize with their plight. What a heartbreaking situation it must've been, seeing a place they'd held such high hopes over irretrievably slip away. Perhaps not too unlike a predestined romance, shorting out for one party being asleep at the wheel at the critical moment. The Vista could’ve, should've, would've become such a nicely settled, enviable backwoods community...
...if still only a white bread one.
While in later years absentee ownership appeared to become racially diverse, judging by the file list of owner names, actual residents in 2014 -- numbering yet only perhaps 300 or 350 -- were still overwhelmingly white. While there were a few Hispanics, there seemed to be few to no Black, Asian, or Native Americans. Growing up in the polyglot melting pot of San Francisco, the writer didn’t find anything amiss about this -- other than wincing whenever a neighbor dropped the ‘n’ word in casual conversation (or later, the 'c' word). I’d learned to pretty much adapt to any ethnic mix or lack thereof in a place, given an even playing field and no parties having expedient intentions.
The scene perhaps reflected rural Siskiyou county as a whole, so predominantly white that it might've appeared to be -- not without a degree of truth -- something of a narrow minded, racist backwater to any people of color arriving from large melting-pot cities, with their relative mutual racial tolerance, inclusivity and everyday intercultural mingling.
But maybe it wasn't ignorant prejudice per se that made the Vista's overwhelmingly white population -- simply white folks out in the sticks -- so seemingly unwelcoming to minority members as much as the inclination of like-minded ethnic groups to stick together over time and so be slow to adapt to any major change in its ethnic make-up. There was a steep learning curve -- fraught with potential for suspicion and mutual misunderstanding -- for both groups. Regardless, a willingness to be law abiding went a long ways to helping the process along.
A more diverse Vista residency from the start might've made for a more culturally rich and thriving development, such as it was. But it was all moot, as Wonderbread it was for a full half century.
Anyone respecting the rule of law held that a development had need of residents working together on some level and following the county's and state's rules in order to keep things safe and pleasant -- the acid test being one’s children -- who'd committed to hanging their hats there. Otherwise, weeds of civic indifference and scofflaw attitudes could spring up, filling in the social vacuum and choking the place's livability.
However, it could make simple country living all but impossible if ordinances were TOO strict, too expensive, too onerous for the majority to ever conform to. As the poet Kahlil Gibran said on noting this eternal dance in The Prophet: “You delight in laying down laws / Yet you delight more in breaking them.”
It appeared there was a fine line between having enough rules and regulations to keep at least a semblance of fair-minded order and having too many and courting rebellion. In any event, as said, developer Collins would never have gotten the Vista development greenlit if not having set up the CC&Rs to reflect every buyer legally agreeing to observe all county and state rules, laws and ordinances on signing the title paperwork.
But, again, the rush of having one’s own land in such a relatively remote region could obscure the reality of there being any county or state regulations TO conform to. There wasn't anyone around to say 'boo' -- especially after the county's residential code-enforcement efforts were abandoned for several critical years in the 2010's.
“I say we got Trouble...with a capital ‘T’...”
Writer's personal story
In October 1978, I'd snapped up a nice, fairly level lot with an inspiring mountain view for $1,750., $250. down and $25./month terms. I'd get by for eleven years with kerosene lamps and candles, before at last going solar in 1989 when solar panels cost ten times more than now, not even adjusting for inflation. (A one-by-four foot, 50 watt panel cost over $400.)
It was an early fall and I set up a quick camp. While days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures plunged to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F. During my first morning after overnighting, an older man driving by spotted me heating coffee water and defrosting myself over a tiny rock-lined campfire in a clearing some 30 feet from the road. He braked, climbed out and stood pointedly looking at the fire.
“You got a permit for that?” he demanded. These were my first words of welcome from the would-be community, before I even had my first sip of coffee. They weren't very comforting.
Fast forward six weeks and I apparently waited too long to apply for my building permit -- and, crucially, join the POWW water-truck club in lieu of drilling a well. As a result, I got the full "Unwelcome Wagon" treatment from sundry busybodies in a rural development that, as I quickly began to appreciate, was more than a little squirrelly around the edges.
While intending to conform all along, being a fairly timid, law-abiding citizen (if also having a pronounced contrary, intellectually radical streak), I'd been gearing up slowly and carefully. Over winter I planned to research tiny home designs, study construction methods and building codes, and draw up tentative designs to submit in spring. I was staying in a not-distant 12-by-16 foot cabin that kindhearted neighbors, leaving as the pleasant season wound down and, taking pity on me, offered to let me, a total stranger, winter in.
This so I wouldn’t freeze to death camping in my tent, as I'd first resolved, wanting to stay on my brand-new land and future homeland no matter what. Cold alone could be endured with extreme-weather bedding and a jury-rigged wood stove in the tent (not recommended). But unbeknownst to me, the region was notorious for windstorms of such fury they beggared description. Coming out of nowhere, they could roar across the land like a runaway freight train. Seventy to eighty mph wind speeds were not uncommon, and in the late 1980s we got hit with a storm with 100 mph gusts.
December weather assaults kept blowing my tent down no matter how tightly I tried securing it. When it collapsed yet again in the middle of a howling blizzard one night, I finally surrendered. Grateful I had such an option, the next morning my cat and I moved into the vacated cabin. Thereafter I made a quarter-mile hike each day to work on my place clearing brush, roughing in a roadway and building an earth-sheltered storage shed that would become my legal onsite construction shelter once winning a building permit.
It seemed ever-vigilant Vista board members and their cohorts had established a pipeline with local realtors for every Vista parcel sale made. Unknown distant neighbors soon learned of the rambling upstart of modest means apparently daring to sneak into their would-be proper domain. My Strout realtor informed me later that while telling them he'd just sold a lot to a young long-hair, he'd refused to divulge which one or where. I found that sporting.
Now a determined posse was hot on the scent of some latest scofflaw and combing the endless back roads. Weeks later, they finally tracked my place down when I wasn’t home. They'd taken one look at my thrown-together, mostly underground shed and a verboten outhouse and duly reported me to the county health department. They didn’t know -- or, I suspect, care-- that I had earnest intentions to start slowly building to code come spring.
Their scorched-earth policy allowed for no such wiggle room. Equal opportunity hasslers, everyone at all non-compliant was promptly thrown under the bus.
Summoned onto the carpet of then head county health department honcho, Dr. Bayuk, I got the full bum's rush. I wasn't even allowed to explain my earnest intentions to comply in time. Assuming the worst of me, he was loaded for bear, duly reading me the riot act. He gave me 120 days to get compliant by installing a septic system -- even though I wouldn’t have a cabin to connect to it for years -- and build a temporary outhouse over it, or he'd see to it that I'd be thrown off my land. “And don’t think I won’t!”, he growled, shaking his head, jowls shaking like Nixon's. He no doubt thought I needed the extra dose of fear instilled in me to get properly motivated.
The only reason he'd accommodated me at all was because at the last moment another kindhearted neighbor had come forward and explained how they’d promised to let me join the by-then membership-capped water truck club when I was ready to build. He grudgingly allowed me to become the very last, twenty-sixth member of the POWW water truck club.
Being thin-skinned, the experience, happening within months of my arrival, had thoroughly traumatized me. Before the last minute reprieve, I'd all but given up. Devastated and demoralized, at age 29 I was gearing up with dread to fade away into yet another depressing homeless sunset. Instead, though fondest hopes and dreams now felt hopelessly mangled, I dredged up reserve will, paid the $125 water-truck membership fee, and became determined to invest the required time, money and effort to get legal and squared away. I'd then at least be able to live on the land with a modicum of dignity and threadbare peace of mind.
I passed the perc test and dug and installed an approved septic system. By agreement, I built an outhouse over the top of the buried, inspected tank and leach field. In part for the benefit of any who might drive by to check out the latest almost-bust and maybe hoping to find some new reportable offense, I painted on the side facing the road in bold blue letters, “Welcome Halley's Comet in 1984.” That'll baffle 'em, I thought. I then built another outhouse more to my liking, a low affair cleverly disguised as a doghouse, water bowl and leash in front; no one ever discovered the ruse.
Over a leisurely three and a half years I built a code-approved, 1½ story, solar-tempered little-big cabin using only hand tools. I hired help for open-beam roofing and electrical and scrounged recycled lumber whenever possible. It appeared I was on the verge of becoming a tenuously respectable resident. Not that I was any longer interested in being accepted as such. It was like the classic Groucho Marx quip, made over a restrictive country club's finally offering him a membership despite being Jewish: I didn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. It'd be decades before I'd ever warm to the board and learn to appreciate its potential to do remedial good for the chronically floundering community.
Working under the gun of county code enforcers -- who I felt were trading notes with the ever-wary Vista board members and their spies had been so depressing -- drove me to drink. I'd learn firsthand how board members and their guard had a special gift for radicalizing the place's denizens in their hell-bent campaign to futilely try returning the place to its former buttoned-down glory. It felt as though the place was caught up in a negative reactionary spiral, trapped in a contention-drenched, never-ending time loop.
On the wings of getting my new shelter signed off in early 1983, I was still a timid if rebellious 33 year-old. One now thoroughly disenchanted with the Vista's imperious would-be overlords.
I soon got into far worse trouble. It seems I decided to celebrate the return of Halley’s Comet by hosting a rainbow family camp on my land.
The annual national alternative-culture rainbow gathering was to be held in California for the first time in 1984. It'd be in an area a two hour drive away in the Warner Mountains wilderness, in the remote northeast corner of the state. Come spring a flood of psyched early-comers, some returning for the first time in decades to countercultural roots, began pouring in from everywhere, even overseas. Many had nowhere to go until the public-forest site was determined, months away yet.
Wanting to reconnect with my own roots, while at the same time evening the balance for all the countless people helped me when living on the road -- plus maybe thinking to try liberating the stodgy development a bit -- I opened up my land and resources to all comers. I solemnly tendered my invite by letter to the rainbow steering committee, then holding monthly steering committee meetings in far away Chico. Word spread fast, and though never recognized or supported as an official rainbow camp, being held on private land, for the next six months hundreds of earlycomer wired spirits, often in colorful, glad-rag garb and sometimes outlandish rigs, traipsed in and out of the yet depressingly buttoned-down-and-proud Vista hinterlands. Rainbow elders set up three 28-foot yurts (formerly part of Seattle area's controversial Love Family commune) on the parcel's back acre. In a way the scene soon felt a little like the animated feature Yellow Submarine when the Beatles' triumphant music turned the dreary frozen black-and-white world into technicolor.
Predictably, residents, most living miles off, had a conniption fit. While a few of the more liberal-minded retirees seemed tickled by it all, possibly rebels at heart who didn't see anything really too threatening about the event, most wanted none of it. No free-spirited long-hairs, with all their flagrant pot-smoking (then still very much illegal), shameless nudity, and unsettling tribal drumming long into the night. Not in their one-time Shangri-la now going to rack and ruin, thank you very much. One family per parcel; that was a Vista rule etched in stone. (Claims of “Hey, we ARE one family” wouldn't cut much ice.)
Frothing at the mouth, they reported me to every enforcement agency they could think of: county sheriff, health, planning and building departments, fire marshal, probably the dog catcher... But, saving grace, earlier on I’d coordinated a meeting between then county sheriff Charlie Byrd and rainbow elders, to be held on my land. Law enforcement was keen to know what they might expect with 33,000 rainbow celebrants (as it turned out), soon to flood the wider region. The sheriff, reassured our ragtag group was basically a harmless if freaky bunch, causing only a temporary glitch in the conventional order of things, must've basically told apoplectic neighbors to just chill a while and grit their teeth and it'd soon all be over. Jaws no doubt dropped; the system was failing them again.
The writer liked to think the free-spirited scene helped break the ice of the Vista's long-oppressive atmosphere, even if at the risk of possibly encouraging anarchy to gain some permanent foothold. Rebellious offspring of various outraged residents had visited the scene and loved it.
It seemed that over time the place swung from one extreme to the other: From firstcomers' honeymoon period, happy campers giddy over all the endless possibilities of the pristine land, to ruthless law-and-order minded "No this, no that, don't even think about it" intolerance", then back to "Whoopee, anything goes!"
Gone eleven months of the year
Firstcomers' control-freak stance was, again, in part born of feeling the need to post serious, snarling signs everywhere to try protecting the place and left belongings while living 700 miles away some 11 months of the year. Mischief-minded locals, resenting the sudden bogarting of former stomping grounds, had a hell-for-leather field day during their long absences...which of course got visiting owners spitting-nails mad on return for a hoped for carefree vacation, anticipated all year.
Locales mounted a rebellious, "You may think it's your land, but it's still ours and we'll never recognize this place" campaign. The endless miles of ungated, groomed backroads were ideal for dirt bikers to gouge deep donuts in. And the more delinquent-minded couldn't resist engaging in more spirited hell raising, stealing and vandalizing at will. Unruly young locals -- absorbing the angry sentiments of their parents and carrying on a proud tradition -- geared up a protracted war with the foreign la-la-landers who'd so rudely appropriated their wilderness playground and grazing land. Law enforcement could only do so much trying to work with the mostly absent owners, there being maybe at most a single overseer watching over the seven square miles of property off season and the actual land owners needing to report incidents to merit investigation.
By the time civic-minded lot owners started actually living on their parcels and joining the larger community, attending church services, some enrolling kids in the local schools and joining PTAs, it almost seemed too late to reverse the long-established vicious circle. Alas, dislike and suspicion of the Vista and its lot owners appeared permanently ingrained in the DNA of most locals, their kids, their grandkids...
“Permit? We ain’t got no permit...
I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”
As related, through the ‘80s and ‘90s the county's health and building ordinances were by and large still strictly enforced. Unless one didn’t mind being deemed an outlaw and never earning recognition or acceptance as an “official” resident -- in time, it seemed more and more indeed wouldn't mind at all -- landowners hoping to become respectable residents tried to comply. Or at least provide the illusion of complying: "See here? I started a well; I'm a hundred feet down and I'm waiting on my next paycheck to drill deeper, cut me some slack here, will ya? (Hope he's buying this.)"
After the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hit, devastating the global economy, county supervisors had to make some tough budget decisions. Among other actions, they axed the position of residential-code enforcer. It seemed to be having little effect anyhow -- leastwise not in the Vista; the place was so far gone by then, calling it a lost cause almost seemed an understatement.
Over the next half decade, residential-code enforcement basically disappeared from the Vista. With no official telling you anything different, it was easier than ever for newcomers to foster the notion they could do whatever they wanted on their parcels. The threatening signs erected everywhere were by now seriously biodegrading, fading into illegibility. They lent the place the air of being some forlorn, largely abandoned rural ghost town living out a strange half-life in sleepy obscurity.
No legal power to fine;
Can a place center without a center?
Other subdivisions forming in the region about the same time wanted to assure having the best chance of establishing a respectable, law-abiding residency. Accordingly, they gave the property-owner boards the legal power to levy fines for infractions of agreed-on rules. If not paid they could then slap legal liens on a culprit's property. Examples: in Lake Shastina visible clotheslines, solid fencing and dirt bikes were all verboten; in Shasta Forest one could get fined fifty dollars for changing oil on their own property even if capturing every drop for recycling.
No such legal powers ever existed in the Vista.
This had always been the place's two-edged sword. While its relative lack of sometimes nit-picky, overreaching rules and regulations (or enforcement thereof) could empower residents to feel more like lords and ladies of the manor as it were, such freedom could also attract those with scofflaw intentions, wanting to exploit the lands, thereby disturbing the place's treasured peace and quiet. Example: the place long ago had a monumental junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by yet-pristine, empty wooded lots; it took the board ages to get the county to condemn it and the place get cleaned up.
It basically came down to giving people the freedom to do what they wanted so long as their actions didn’t interfere with the rights of others to do what they wanted. Liberty vs. license. The flip side of liberty was, of course, the obligation to support the rules of law that were set up to safeguard freedom rights for the greatest number. (That the rules sometimes seemed to distinctly favor the interests of the wealthier class at the expense of others getting the short end of the stick was what made people want to rebel.)
Few parcel holders ever felt an obligation or need to build a community center. And so the Vista never built one. Even though its population had grown enough to merit one, there was never enough community interest to create such a practical facility: a place where residents and visiting members could meet, get to know each other in a neutral, relaxed setting, hold the monthly meeting, form informal volunteer action groups like litter patrol and sign making, start community gardens, hold swap meets... And hold the monthly meeting open to all owners.
It had to be held in the cramped, cold-fluorescent-lit backroom of the volunteer firehouse on Juniper Drive, beyond Vistan boundaries. And the annual property owner meetings were held some ten miles away, in Lake Shastina, one having to walk through the golf club's bar lounge to reach the conference room. (In earliest years, they were held hundreds of miles away, at places like many members’ then favorite, the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo, to make it easier for a dominant southern California ownership to attend.)
It seemed impossible for a quasi community to ever gain any sense of centeredness without such a center. Driving ten miles away from the place to attend its annual meeting could feel too weird for words.
“Wouldn’t give you a dime…” vs. “Only $29,999!”
As related, due to the place’s sundry shortcomings the sale values of parcels had stalled out for decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Until 2015, unimproved two-to-three acre lots went begging at $5,000. Lacking any easier water, septic systems and electricity, or any more can-do, fair-minded and empowered board, and appropriate CC&Rs, the place fairly shouted, "Beware! Failed subdivision!"
It just didn’t strike many as an inviting place to drop anchor at. Only those enjoying roughing it for a while and relishing the novelty of owning their own piece of California land. Or determined to live on the cheap and who wouldn't lose sleep being non-compliant, "Screw the System" being their motto. Or those renting houses and mobiles from code-compliant owners who'd moved, for their affordability more than anything else, and tried their best to tune out the gnarly politics. Or long-timers who'd known the place in kinder times and had such deep roots they were braced to weather extreme changes that might make others move in a heartbeat.
Long ago I met a former realtor who said of the properties, with a heated disdain apparently common in some property peddling circles at the time, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them!” He said it with such vehemence, like the realm was an radioactive waste dump or something, it made one wonder if maybe he or his colleagues had skirted ugly, protracted lawsuits for misrepresenting the properties, or endured some other such unpleasantness, making it not worth the paltry commission closing such low-end parcels generated.
Two realtor groups thought differently. Specializing in scouting developments deemed undervalued, in the late 2000s they snapped up hundreds of the bedeviled hinterland's parcels for cheap that had long laid fallow (at least relieving many long-stuck or more recently-stuck parcel owners). Then they mounted slick sales campaigns to try to remedy the obviously under-exploited situation, hoping to make a mint for serving as helpful middlemen.
The first outfit was called National Recreational Properties, Inc.. It hired former CHiPs TV star Erik Estrada to serve as their aggressive pitchman. Out of Irvine (possibly the same town as Vista founder Collins), it had a penchant for going after failed, “left-for-dead” subdivisions, sharp talons squeezing out any easy quick profit before swooping off to the next rural roadkill. In ad promos "the Ponch" shamelessly enthused how the place was so great, he even had his own parcel there. (He was of course given it as part of the deal just so he could say that.)
The outfit offered to fly prospective buyers in to enjoy a champagne brunch along with the big pitch and a grand tour of the prime properties offering rich solitude and dazzling mountain views. When they held a grand open house, balloons festooning highway entrances, rumor had it no one even showed. (They were more successful with their Alturas, California area development, California Pines., which boasted over 15,000 one-acre parcels, each demanding the installation of a pricey, engineer-designed septic system that hindered development.)
A few years later, around 2012, another group, called Billyland.com, possibly taking lots off the former’s hands -- likewise grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels. They in turn seemed to aim at land-hungry Internet surfers. They'd hawk parcels online, eBay auction style, the 'winner' being the one having made the highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they gushed. (With low monthly payments and high interest rate, final cost could run well over $50,000.) Their campaign attracted many living on a shoestring, some soon to grow a few cannabis plants, no doubt in part to try to make land payments and so avoid losing what various legal residents, perhaps uncharitably, viewed as little more than private campgrounds for the homeless. (As of late 2022, they were still trying to hawk a lot or two at $80,000, hopeful the right sucker was maybe out there somewhere.)
By 2015, according to county records the Vista held some 80 legally permitted residences. Out of 1,640, 2-1/2 acre average parcels, that was one in twenty, or five percent. The rest -- some 1,556 lots, 95% of the parcels -- either held unpermitted dwellings, were once informally lived on and since vacated, or, most commonly, were still as relatively pristine as the day the place launched a half century earlier (minus various scars of tree poachers and off-roaders and occasional squatters).
Hope sprang eternal for some of the current stuck landholders still hoping to make a bundle. They set a speculative price with the realtor, thinking to snag an eager land-hungry buyer with more money than sense, oblivious to the depressed market and the development's festering problems: "Secluded", "Perfect spot to build your dream hideaway!", etc. Once in the early teens a sale to a woman was about to finalize. She was taking one last look at the parcel when the nearby 'outlaw' resident, determined to keep out 'the wrong kind of people', strode out to a stretch road nearby buck naked and started prancing about. The strategy worked; the deal promptly fell through.
“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”
It was no secret the county supervisors rued the day they'd ever greenlit the woebegone development. One former Vista board president stalwart, Jeannette Hook, worked with county officials. She said they viewed the Vista as "the red-headed stepchild no one knew what to do with."
Meanwhile, the place, having no fining power, was, short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, at the total mercy of county officials and enforcers to keep intact whatever shreds of respect for the rule of law yet remained.
But the huge, mostly rural county, on an overstretched budget and often understaffed, had long ago given up trying to deal with the forsaken realm. Responsible enforcement and policy-making parties had grown numb to the perpetual thorn in their side. They tried to forget that its legal residency paid their salaries through annual county property taxes and, not unreasonably, expected them to earn their keep.
Despite -- or because of -- non-compliant residents growing more numerous all the time, they still wouldn't respond short of real emergencies; they knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. But county officials kept kicking the can down the road, on automatic pilot, determined to avoid dealing with the fool's errand of a place whenever possible...
...until the day of reckoning came at last.
In the spring of 2015, a sudden flood of growers, anticipating the eminent tidal wave of legalized recreational cannabis use in California, would pour in out of nowhere. It would appear to catch everyone flatfooted, asleep at the switch, out to lunch... "No one could've possibly predicted such a thing would happen" opined one official to media, head firmly in the sand. Studious ignoring of the development's long-term plight -- born of a rural county too poor, provincial-minded and/or lackadaisical to keep up with changing times or enforce its own ordinances and regulations, should enough, for any reason, rebel -- had been careening on a collision course with reality for ages...
...until avoiding dealing with it would prove an unwarranted luxury.
Fifth century B.C. Chinese philosophy Lao Tse said that the cause of anything is everything, and the cause of everything is anything. It'd be unfair and over-simplistic to try to pin the blame for what happened to the realm on any one cause or party.
There was an extraordinarily daunting combination of cascading factors at play over time, countless ingredients in the place's recipe for disaster.
A brief recap on main contributing causes:
Martin seller to developer didn't get permission from the rest of the family, establishing a shaky foundation for the place from the start
Surrounding locals bitterly resented the place being allowed to develop, possibly including some county board members who unsuccessfully voted against its formation, ostensibly for lack of water
Within a few years, the ambitious efforts of first settlers, each providing their own well, electrical hookup, etc., was not followed by most future dwellers despite this being crucial to become a recognized functional, standard community
A sea of indifferent absentee owners, often speculators, countless soon nursing serious buyer remorse, unable to unload parcels and loathe to sink another cent in the place
Firebrand property owners board, reacting to the rash of scofflaw residents determined to live on lots without first conforming to code, declaring war on them by throwing them all under the bus, creating an incredibly contentious climate
Expedient-minded realtors, not caring what one intended to do with their lot
Uninvolved association managers and sometimes board presidents, indifferent to or ineffective in helping more civic-minded residents make the place more livable, speculating on or actually moving lots themselves on the side
County officials eventually all but abandoning enforcement of the building code and state health regulations in the Vista
More and more free-minded residents deeming said home building-code standards too complicated and expensive for simple country living and worthy of being ignored.
Mix together and bake 50 years. Result? One giant question mark of a place the public still shakes its head over and dismisses as a hopeless mess.
Was it any wonder the Vista became such a basket case? All along it seemed as though it was maybe vying for 'Most Maladjusted Rural Development' award in some bizarro alternate universe.
Countless influences -- some possibly not even touched on here -- led the Vista to become the way it is now: a former shared recreational land forever trying to be something more despite the cards being stacked against it from the start...
...but, people being people and the Vista being the Vista, is still trying to any way it can.
Will the place ever find redemption? Though it might seem improbable, you never know.
Comments? Click to contact writer Stu Ward by e-mail