Lake County Identity Crisis

Many years ago Lake County used to be part of Napa County, giving it the status of a San Francisco Bay Area county. It was hard to get to in those pre CalTrans days. Around the time that Lake County broke off, another nearby county was breaking up. This was the county of Klamath on the Coast. It was too small and poor to pay its bills, which were a lot fewer back then. The disappearing county became parts of Humboldt, Trinity, Siskyiou, and the new county of Del Norte. Counties can die when there is a good reason.

A case could be made that Lake County should be divided up between its functional neighbors for the good of the residents. After the grinding poverty the best reason for Lake to split at the Putah Creek and Cache Creek Watersheds is the fact that it doesn’t know who it is and is constantly at war with change. The exception is the chamber marketing people who throw all their cash at convincing a skeptical world that we really are part of the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino “Wine Country.” Sure, out of county wineries are all too happy to take advantage of Lake’s lax environmental regulations for their satellite vineyards but their wineries and tasting rooms stay at home along with the jobs.

Mendocino has a second identity along with Humboldt as the “North Coast”, sometimes referred to as the “Emerald Triangle.” Mendocino generally works well and its county seat Ukiah is convenient to the North half of Lake County. Mendocino has a rim of surrounding communities that boast a strong cultural and community identity. Lake County has little of this. Lake County has a small group of mean spirited, small minded opportunists that love being big fish in a small pond. This leadership class does not see itself as public servants. Their motto is “To the victor goes the spoils.” In this oppressive climate the best and the brightest go elsewhere, if they can afford it.

But even myopic victors need an identity. And the Lake County goobertocracy has chosen the Neanderthal State of Jefferson movement as their inspiration. Its Board of Supervisors were unanimous in spite of this endorsement being in opposition to most of their constituency. After a series of devastating fires caused a billion dollars in aid to pour into beleaguered Lake, the ranting about California and support for Jefferson quietly died. No doubt the fires of secession are still burning in the goobers’ black hearts. So I’ve created a litmus test for NorCal gooberness.

In 1996 there were two interesting California State Propositions – Pot Proposition 215 and the 2/3 Tax Approval Prop 218. These were hot topics and tended to split along liberal and conservative lines. But not always. What if a county tended towards local control and personal freedom. Then they would favor both. In Northern California no county who complains about over regulation has any business voting against 215. This means no “State of Gooberstan.” People who have the can-do spirit will vote against easy taxation also. I don’t begrudge true goober supervisors voting their class war values but their votes should mirror the values of their bosses – the people.

The boundaries of this fantasized goobertopia are constantly shifting, depending on political realities. In the most optimistic version of Jefferson we get a rim of Oregon counties to the North, which has nothing to do with what our California Legislature does, to a Southern frontier of Mendocino, Lake, Yolo, El Dorado and Alpine Counties. A more realistic boundary target consists of about 13 counties, bypassing the hard sell middle Sierra region and Delta Counties. For some unfathomable reason the hard core redneck enclave still includes Mendocino and Humboldt Counties which has far more in common with those sinners in the Bay Area than with Donald Trump voters.

Looking at the 1996 results, a “no” on 215 and a “yes” on 218 says “break out the banjos, load up the squirrel shooters, and stomp the flag burners, yeah ha!” These counties include, coming down from the Oregon border, most of the central and Northeastern counties down to Sierra but not Nevada Counties.They do not include Lake or Trinity, obviously corrupted by Mendocino and Humboldt next door. News is slow getting back to Goober Headquarters. Maybe they think Goobers are the chosen people and they can ignore everyone else. But hey, Lake County Supervisors have a disconnect with the people who pay their salaries also.

Lake County was a 53 percent yes vote on 215 and a 65 yes on 218, along with six other double yes counties in the expansion zone of Greater Gooberstan. This is the hard core goober resistance movement, plus the single liberal “yes on 215, no on 218” county of Yolo. Other sympathetic counties have backed off on a Jefferson endorsement due to the embarrassing hypocrisy of biting the hand that is feeding them. Five of the seven double yes counties I would call the “non goober, local control” federation. But the other two, Humboldt and tiny Alpine, had “super” double yes majorities. I would call those two the libertarian counties.

Bottom line is Lake County is not State of Jefferson country in spite of what our grumpy, head-in-the -sand leaders want to believe. Since we are the “local control group” we should be part of the North Coast/Emerald Triangle network. I really want to join and I’ll always have regular connections in the Ukiah Valley within Mendocino. But in spite of my rustic rural sensibilities, minimal cultural and political functioning demands that my serious focus has to be on the Bay Area. I have a limited “push out” identity that I described as “The Wedge” in a blog but I am committed to identify Lake as Bay Area, in opposition to the deep denial of the Jefferson tribe and the wine country clique.

In order to intellectually identify with an area you have to have a good physical connection with your chosen homeland. Most of Lake County is poor. Buses to the North, East, or the Coast are minimal or non existent. But thanks to an amazing bus system gradually built up since 1995 we not only have four buses a day to the nearest functional city of Ukiah but Lake Transit also sends four express buses a day, six days a week to the South and the big, exciting world beyond. Here’s how it works.

Bus 3 leaves Walmart in Clearlake going to the Northernmost Napa County city of Calistoga. From here you have two choices. Our transit drivers will give you a free transfer to the Napa Vine Route 10 as far as the city of Napa. Your second option, and this is where “the world” comes in, is to pay a few bucks and get on the 29 Express (Monday thru Friday) and blow thru South of Napa. For pure fun, jump off at the Vallejo dock and take the ferry all the way to San Francisco, or stay on the 29 Express and go all the way to the North El Cerrito Bart Station. Now you are a light rail ride away from all East Bay cities, San Francisco, two international airports, the Central Valley, and Amtrack.

This month I’m going to the Napa Film Festival, a law conference in Oakland, and catching the slam poetry venue in Berkeley, all made possible by Lake Transit’s Route 3 to the Bay Area and civilization. Lake County is isolated only if someone wants to be isolated.