Residents Create CA Dream Community

Discussion in 'Land Use' started by Bubba Ray Boudreaux, Dec 26, 2002.

  1. Bubba Ray Boudreaux

    Bubba Ray Boudreaux 1 ton status

    Jan 21, 2001
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    Residents Create Calif. Dream Community

    .c The Associated Press

    CASPAR, Calif. (AP) - Tucked between the former logging hub of Fort Bragg and
    the tourist haven of Mendocino, Caspar is a wisp of a town perched on the
    rocky shoulders of the California coast.

    But to the 400 or so people who have found a home here, Caspar represents
    something big - a chance to create an environment that is neither fancy
    resort nor faded relic.

    Five years into their dream of community, residents have helped preserve a
    stretch of headlands as a state park and acquired a charming community
    center. They are now trying to figure out how to acquire and design a town

    ``There is no question that what has happened in this community is a
    phenomenon that Thomas Jefferson would have just loved,'' says Randy Hester,
    a University of California, Berkeley professor who is helping residents draft
    their blueprint for the future. ``This place was not a community five years
    ago. It was a group of people getting away from somewhere else. They made
    themselves be a community.''

    Caspar started out a company town, built and owned by the Caspar Lumber
    Company, which was founded in 1857 and ran a sawmill on the coast for 98
    years. As many as 4,000 people lived here before the company closed in the

    There were plans for development. A blueprint hanging in the community center
    dated 1948 envisions ``A Frontier Town,'' with neatly gridded streets and a
    motel with beach cottages. But the plans never materialized and the land
    eventually was sold to the Caspar Cattle Company.

    About six years ago, owner Oscar Smith indicated he was ready to sell about
    300 acres, which included the town, Caspar Creek, the beach and a ravishing
    stretch of headlands overlooking the Pacific.

    That was when Caspar residents got the idea to buy and build their own town.

    ``People got together and said, 'What can we do?''' said Mike Dell'Ara, head
    of the Caspar community board.

    The possibility of the town being sold alarmed residents. There were fears
    that a subdivision would sprawl over Caspar's rural meadows or that a Howard
    Johnson's would sprout on the headlands. Residents united against the plan.

    ``There's probably nothing previously that has brought the town together
    except that fear of having it sold,'' Dell'Ara said.

    Residents formed a nonprofit group, Caspar Community, and started talking -
    and arguing - about what shape their community should take. At times a
    therapist was called upon to defuse tensions.

    Their efforts got a huge boost this summer when the Mendocino Land Trust and
    the Trust for Public Land put together $3.5 million in state and federal
    money to buy the approximately 70 acres of headlands, now part of Caspar
    Headlands State Beach.

    Then in September, thanks to the donation of some well-to-do residents,
    Caspar obtained a community center - a white building at the center of a
    short street of houses in wildly different states of repair.

    About 140 acres of Caspar are still for sale. The plan is to acquire some of
    the land, perhaps using development permits already obtained as a bargaining
    chip, and then to create a town center by attracting housing and businesses,
    like a bakery or grocery. Residents also hope to establish a fire station and
    post office and create a village green-type gathering spot.

    ``We're getting to the tough part now,'' says Judy Tarbell. ``Taking the
    headlands, this was a no-brainer. Now we're coming to some tough issues and
    how to plan for them and how to make it work.''

    Finding consensus in Caspar is not easy. Townsfolk range from millionaire
    retirees to homespun back-to-the-land types.

    Hester, who helps communities design public spaces, was involved in the
    planning process four years ago at a meeting where he asked residents to
    identify ``sacred spaces.''

    On a recent afternoon, he returned to Caspar with some students to continue
    the process, but it was anything but a typical planning commission. The
    session began with a breathing exercise and the instruction to about 60
    residents to ``focus your mind's eye'' on centers they remembered.

    After drafting their individual visions, the audience split into groups to
    vote on the ideas.

    Some thought development of any kind would bring too much noise and traffic.
    Others argued development was inevitable, and the best course was to take the
    initiative and have a hand in how it would happen. And there were a few
    uniquely Caspar discussions, such as the contretemps that erupted when
    members of one group tried to cast half votes. ``Can you believe this? It's
    the Caspar technique,'' explained one.

    This month, Hester returned to Caspar with a neatly drawn - and well-received
    - plan that showed a pleasant picnic and play area surrounded by a modest
    cluster of buildings.

    Change isn't coming overnight - or even over-year. But many residents are
    quietly pleased with what they've accomplished so far.

    ``The headlands are preserved, the beach is preserved, the estuary is
    preserved,'' says resident Tommy Brown. ``Things do get done.''

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