I don’t even know where to start. This canyon is in my blood. My family has lived here since 1857. I want to start this by saying that I am who I am, I’m not ashamed of who I am, nor am I apologetic. My wife and I stared a business in 1972, our first store was an appliance store in Redway, and in the same building that houses the Mateel Café. 1972 was a time when there was a huge influx of people that didn’t give a darn who we were. They told us “You don’t own the land, the land is for everybody.” I wish I had known that before I worked so darn hard to provide the land that I own. I should say that NOBODY gave me anything; I have earned everything that I own. The first question that they would ask is “what do you have against newcomers?” The first thing that became noticeable to us when the new people came is apparently we didn’t own anything, because anything left out would get taken. The excuse was, “If I hadn’t taken it someone else would have.”
I could go on and on about the things that the local people had to adjust to. We secured everything from thieves, and we learned to lock our house doors and cars. They seemed to be used to that and they respected that boundary.
At this point, if you were one of the people that moved up here during the wave of people that came and displaced the people that had lived here for generations, you are probably starting to get angry, and upset that I’m back to the same old mantra. But, having your culture taken away is, indeed, a shock. Only some people can grasp that. The point that I want to make, and I want you to listen carefully… Not all of the new people were bad. That is a huge point that I want you to listen to, and think about real hard. Some of the new people that moved here were some of the best people that I know, and they have become fast friends. What I also want people to know is I don’t care who you are. You are judged by the content of your character. So if the shoe fits, wear it.
Amongst the good people that moved here, were also the scum of the earth. Liars cheaters and thieves. They settled right in and told us “You can’t own the land”.
In the past I have taken the stance that “I am a merchant, my job is not to judge people, my job is to shut up and take care of my customers.” In taking care of my customers, I often chat with a few of them, most are my friends anyway. I noticed a few years back that most of our very loyal customers from Shelter Cove were no longer shopping with us. I was concerned that we had done something wrong. I made it a point to contact them, and ask why we don’t see them anymore. They were glad that I asked, and they were glad to have somebody to vent to.
The statements that they made, I will paraphrase, but anybody that has been to Garberville lately will know that their statements have a ring of truth to them. They told me that I had let Garberville become a sewer, that they don’t feel comfortable walking downtown, there is dog feces on the sidewalks. (The Chamber of Commerce was so concerned that they put up doggie bags). People lay on the sidewalks, you have to walk around them. They stack all of there worldly goods in the walkway. They told me that the main thing that bothered them more than anything is that you couldn’t just walk down town and window shop, and that all that they could think about was the unkempt people on the streets. Lately piles of human feces has been placed in strategic places. I get the feeling that they are trying to tell us something.
The other thing that the people of Shelter Cove complained about was the extreme high price of food. They say that it is cheaper to go to Eureka. Being a merchant I can understand, if not completely justify, why their prices are so darn high. I have talked to the market managers and their shoplifting expenses are ENORMOUS. Winco in Eureka does not have near the percentage of shoplifting that the Garberville area has. Other merchants have been hit hard also. Some stores have a hard time controlling shoplifting because they were established at a time before we had a town full of thieves, and not really built to be secure.
Our store does not raise prices, because our prices are fixed by our franchise. Their attitude is that it is our responsibility to control shoplifting, not theirs, and if we can’t control it, we have no business being in business anyway. (It’s easy for them to say)
Lately, I was talking to a long time resident, who was in our store doing some shopping. I asked him about his daughter. He was very excited that she was coming for a long overdue visit. He told me that he was going to tell her to go north and stay away from Garberville, and that he didn't feel that she would feel safe here. He said that he knew that he was probably over-reacting but he was a little bit ashamed of what Garberville has become. Perception is just as damaging as fact. How people view our town is very subtle. We can’t make them come here we can only make them want to. Then hope they do.
The same people told me that they had recently taken a day trip to Ferndale and they liked what a clean friendly little town that it was and how much that they enjoyed flitting from shop to shop. It didn’t even occur to them that they had homeless hanging out on the sidewalks. (because they don’t) Ferndale must know something that we don’t.
We have been having town meetings lately, because tempers are beginning to flare and we need some solutions. The homeless have become an unbearable burden to some, and it is apparent to most that our businesses are being damaged. The first meeting was fairly organized, and everyone got their turn to speak. Both homeless advocates, and business owners got their fair three minutes. I chose not to say anything because, as I said “my job is to be a merchant and keep my mouth shut”. They didn’t come to any decisions other than to have another meeting. The second meeting I had not planned on attending, but a kind person clued me in that Sheriff Mike Downey and Sergeant Ken Swithenbank would be at the meeting. I have talked to them several times about the homeless situation. They said that they need the town support in enforcing the law, because of the homeless advocates that don’t see these people doing anything wrong. I’m not sure how far civil rights extend, but I have been thinking about taking all of our stores security tapes and showing you what kind of people some of these homeless are. SOME, NOT ALL! Some of them are very smooth and accomplished thieves. They steal things just like they have the right to steal them. Some of the thieves we have had arrested. In most cases there was someone that objected to a thief being arrested. Why the heck would anybody think that it was alright to steal, and why would anybody want to protect them?
At the second meeting some of the homeless showed up. They had their say, and everybody listened. After their turn, others were trying to speak. They were rudely interrupted and shouted down by the homeless group. One homeless advocate got up and proudly stated that she was a long time resident and came to town as a young person. She said that she was not welcomed and treated very rudely by the town people from the very start. She went on to say that the town people did not own anything that “the land belongs to the people” and they have every right to be anywhere that they chose to be. I’m sorry, but it just brought back too many memories for me, of what those kind of people did to us when they first showed up. I became angry, I decided that I was going to leave at the first opportunity. The meeting spun completely out of control. The moderator, Eric Kirk, suggested that if we couldn’t remain civil that maybe we should call the meeting off. I was among the ones that decided that it was a heck of a good idea, and I left. I now wish that I had stayed. I abandoned my friends at a time of their need. We are being run out of our own town.
I am vowing that I will not back down again. I’m am also saying that Mike Downey is a fine person. He is reasonable and intelligent, he has treated people kindly in the face of great adversity. He conducts himself in a reasonable fashion and has the best interest of all people at heart. Kenny Swithenbank is also a fair and honest person and they have both been charged with keeping the peace for us. So far they have done very well considering the lack of support that we have shown them.
Now, we need a fair plan to clean up our town. I would like to take suggestions. Some that I’ve heard, is that a person can’t loiter. Sidewalks are for walking and standing, no sitting or napping on the curb. It is not a storage area. No back-packs or bed rolls laying around. Call in problems, and have ALL shoplifters arrested. Make security tapes of shoplifters made available to the sheriff dept. AND other merchants