Friday, July 25, 2008

Living in History

To say that life in these parts has been interesting lately would be a great understatement. Living in Humboldt county is always interesting because it is a hotbed of political diversity that polarizes the citizenry on almost everything. In fact, you can predict most peoples votes based on where they live within the county and where they work or if they are attending HSU.

I usually refer to HSU as "Berkley North" since both campus seem to have the same 60's hippy mentalities which can be both refreshing and aggravating...mostly the latter...

I live and work in Scotia, Ca. This little town is one of the last, if not the last, genuine company towns in America that is still serving it's original purpose of housing the workers of a single company, owned in whole by that company, managed by the company, cared for by the company, ruled by the company. When you enter Scotia you are entering a piece of history that has been preserved and presents itself as a charming little hamlet nestled in a small bend of the Eel river. The streets are clean, the homes are cared for and the people are friendly.

All that is about to change. The company, after almost 20 years of being under the control of Charles Hurwitz and being broken up into several corporate sections, has been reunited to some extent by a judge in a Texas bankruptcy court. The case stretched on for more than 18 months. When a plan was finally approved by the court it was instantly appealed by one group of note-holders. Tensions have run high and fear of losing more jobs and having the mill closed has had the population feeling the stress. As the case is starting to finally reach it's end we have a plan that will have the mill and timber taken over by what appears to be a good company and the town, power plant and other properties will be taken over by an investment /banking firm and will be sold off.

The houses, the businesses, the post office, the recreation center and the school will no longer be company property. The company will no longer decide who lives here or be able to insist that the yards be kept tidy, the houses be painted in pastel shades or set the rules for the workers outside of the mill. They will no longer be maintaining a little park, atv trails, river access, a museum, a fisheries exhibit and...

There are some things that will need to be done before the houses can be sold and many of the people now renting them will not be able to buy and will have to seek housing elsewhere. They will face higher rents, no pet policies and longer commutes to work in a tight rental market. As one of those people I can only hope that the process is very slow moving.

But aside from my personal dread of having to move again when the houses are sold off, I also dread seeing the little town change. In a time when the world is worried about the environment, communities are being designed to be "green" where people can live, work, shop and find recreation all in their neighborhood, this little piece of history which actually had all that, is changing away from it.

National Geographic had photographers here last week. I wonder if they will publish a piece on the death of a way of life in a company town or if they will just cover the story of the mill and the redwood timber lands.


GW said...

What a shame, Brenda. I'm sorry to hear this. Who will own the homes now?

Zanymuse said...

There will be a town meeting tommorrow to let us know what happens next for the residents and businesses. It is a time of changes and some will be good and some will be hard pills to swallow. Living history is not always fun but it is always interesting.As of today the investment group owns all of the town. Since they are not in the real estate business it is going to be sold. How soon and to whom are questions with no answers today. We are not in a position to buy so unless new owners choose to buy as rentals we will be out of luck. Finding rentals that are affordable here is next to impossible and finding one that will allow a pet is even more than impossible. Add to that, that we are a rural community and living anywhere else entails commuting some distance and you begin to see the tip of the huge iceberg that we are floating on as it begins to break apart It is the best of times, it is the worst of is frightening and exciting and it is never boring...

Zanymuse said...

Just an update: They are offering 2 year leases on the homes now so sales are not expected to begin until after 2-3 years. This is good news for us as it allows us some time.

The separation of the town from the mill continues as they work out the details. I must say that so far it has been a pretty amazing transition and relatively painless for the residents. Both companies have been open and forthright with us regarding their plans and it is promising for the future of this unique little community.

Zanymuse said...

Wow! The last post I made on this was 8 years ago. A lot has changed since then...and a lot is the same.

The mill is still operating, under a different name and management. It is now HRC, Humboldt Redwood Company. They are under the authority of Mendocino Forest Products. the Fisher Family, founders of Gap Clothing, are the majority stake owners.

Although there was a large reduction in the work force and production was cut back dramatically from the Hurwitz era, that was a good move for the community and the forests. Life quieted down and protestors moved on to other causes.

The town's Biomass plant was eventually sold to a green power company but when negotiations with PGE failed, the company closed the plant and it sat idle for almost 2 years. It was recently purchased by the mill and is operating again, at a much reduced level.

The Housing and businesses, museum, park and theater are now (still) owned by an investment banking group. The long process of upgrading the infrastructure is ongoing and a community service district has been established. The first division of homes and businesses should be on the market for sale soon as the second phase moves forward.

As you drive through town, it still looks and feels like the company town it always was. The rows of pastel houses, the main street charm are still there. The whole town is now a historical landmark, so some things will not change. Other things are already changing.

Many of the people living there do not work for the mill. The old "Mill A" area is now a business park and RV Storage. Those businesses employees now rent some of the homes within the town that were once available to mill workers only.

I can feel the differences in the town more than I can see them. History continues to write itself in this community.

Gardenwife said...

Wow is right! How the heck are YOU? Drop me an email.

Zanymuse said...

GW, I can't find an email for you. I hope that you and Howie are thriving. I lost Bob 2 years ago. It was devastating, but I am doing fine now. Pyxle and I are aging, but she is still my constant companion.

Zanymuse said...

I moved out of Scotia shortly after the death of my husband in early 2014. I was lucky enough to find a tiny rental house that allows pets. The transition was difficult at first, but I gradually learned to scale everything down and make myself a new home.

I no longer work full time at the power plant. I now work 2 days a week as security for the town. It supplements my income and keeps me in touch with the pulse of this community.

They have completed upgrades in phase 1. New power lines and meters have been put in and PGE is the supplier now of both gas and electric. New water mains and sewage lines and freshly paved streets now service this section. The homes in phase 1 have been brought up to code with new wiring, insulation, and new windows. They are ready for sale as soon as the county approves the parcels plan.

While that is delaying the sales, phase 2 has begun. More of the 140 year old infrastructure is being reworked and the next section of housing is being renovated.

The first sales of homes and or businesses could take place at any time between now and the end of the year. When that first sale happens it will be huge news in this little town.

The school, K-8th, has been officially turned over to the school district along with the gymnasium and the swimming pool. The recreational/gym is closed as they struggle to obtain funding to revive it. It was a big part of this community for many years. I look forward to the day it is open again for their use.

The Fisheries exhibit is still open and being tended to by HSU. The museum is open from Memorial Day thru Labor Day. The Theater is maintained and available for renting for special events, local theater groups and even a youth ministry.

The old mill pond no longer floats massive redwoods, but it is still there and attracts a variety of water fowl. Several fire departments use it for training volunteers to man pump trucks.

Slowly the community is making the change from company town to a community service district. History continues to write itself here.