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.