Clearlake – The Developmentally Disabled City

Everyone has gripes about how their city functions or was developed. Most problems are manageable and residents learn from them in hindsight. On the other hand, it is possible for a few arrogant, narrow minded people to cause almost unimaginable systemic damage in the formative period of a city. The same people violently resist all attempts by newcomers to make obvious changes, decade after decade. This is what happened to Clearlake.

The biggest deal killer, if there ever was one, was the decision by a small group of realtors and developers to reach out from the old Clearlake Highlands resort strip as far as they could into the howling wilderness to create a fictitious city of 10.6 square miles. Simple people deluded by vague promises of services and skyrocketing land values voted for the incorporation. Never mind that it’s considered poor planning to assume municipal service responsibility for any area that can’t or won’t pay for its own infrastructure. Best practices were irrelevant for founders with their own agenda.

Most of “The City” was composed of hundreds of paper lots with paper access. Forty-four percent of this charming war zone is still only accessible by dirt roads that pollute the Lake with silt. A recent City Manager even tried to give the sprawling paper development called “The Avenues” back to the County. The County laughed in his face.

Lake County wasn’t the poster child for California’s State Map Act for nothing. The constant refrain around here is “When will someone pave the roads?” Post-Map Act, the developers pave them. But Clearlake is pre-Map Act so the only way a dirt road resident’s feet are going to touch asphalt is for neighbors to form multiple road assessment districts and pay for it.

After incorporation the City did not wait for the other shoe to drop before shooting themselves in the foot. The City Fathers, or Deadbeat Dads, frightened the locals in voting for Measure P which mandated that 63% of the City budget must go for police in addition to a half-cent City sales tax. Robert VanNort, an interim City Manager who didn’t plan to stick around, reported that nothing will improve in Clearlake until this restrictive measure is reformed. He was ignored by the Goobertocracy.

While Clearlake can’t spend enough on police, sewers are a low priority. The future thinking brain trust put in a bargain basement version of what the County recommended. This was a faith based infrastructure project where overloaded pipes were believed to drain uphill by divine intervention. Prayers were answered after heavy rains by manhole cover lifting miracles where waves of toilet paper streamed out like dollar store bridal veils.

Clearly, what Clearlake needs is free enterprise. You know, where businesses don’t wait around for incompetent, wasteful government to find a solution. It is entrepreneurial know how and the will to put your money where your mouth is that will save the day. For a City that was never a town, that means the old resort strip of businesses would have to vote in a Business Improvement District, made possible by a 1994 law, to assess themselves.

This would give business property owners control of several blocks to create a commercial oasis and vacation paradise. They would make the decisions and pay the bills, knowing that their superior knowledge of how the market works to satisfy consumer demands will enable this self- supporting district to draw tourists from hundreds of miles. Then and only then will their substantial investment, free of government subsidies and interference, pay off.

Then I woke up – to a city where the business community never forked over a dime of their own money for a long range project. Why should they? This is a City that acts as their agent to be first in line for State Bond money and Federal stimulus packages. That City launches another sales tax attempt every election on the poorest residents in the State while never considering an infrastructure assessment.

Since local businesses don’t want to pay their own bills they certainly won’t contribute their share to the few basic City functions. So the City spends all their time trolling for short term start up grants to fund desired services such as wood chipping or a youth center program. The grants give the City “administration” money for the grant and an opportunity to hire a crony or their unemployable relative for the grant’s duration. When the grant ends, the service that people enjoyed as a step forward is not continued with local funds. That’s the standard operating procedure in Clearlake.

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