Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lucero and the Shasta Lake fiefdom (updated)

I haven't followed the Dolores Lucero situation in Shasta Lake much, since I no longer live there and am no longer subjected to that city's politics. But a few observations come to mind as the continuing saga unfolds.

Lucero, we've been told, has made baseless allegations against city officials, is rude to the city staff and to community members, and is disrupting city business "for no reason". She counters that the recall against her is retaliation for the councilwoman's investigation into the city's alleged abusive, wasteful and possibly fraudulent spending.

The Record Searchlight has made no secret of the fact that it wants the tea party-backed Lucero gone, even going as far as to suggest she "is just proving the pro-recall crowd's point that she has no business being in office." Bruce Ross told me in a Facebook conversation she's had some considerable missteps amid her push to clean up the city -- disregarding CEQA hurdles in trying to scale back a hillside ordinance, failing to fully abide by an FPPC ruling with regard to the city's election consolidation, etc. So whatever.

I have never met Dolores Lucero, although a friend who's spent time with her tells me she was always quiet and unassuming. But I can simply draw from my own experiences as a former resident/homeowner in that city, and the few times I covered them for the paper. In short, the staff and culture there make the oft-criticized city of Redding look tame and citizen-friendly by comparison.

I'll give you just one example. There was a busted pipe under the street in front of our house that made for a wet, muddy mess, even on warm, sunny days. After calling the city several times and getting no response, I called then-City Councilwoman Gracious Palmer (who's had her own controversies and efforts to bring some accountability to City Hall) and explained that I was concerned about the street being undermined, and she called city officials on my behalf. They were out there the next day. But I got a nasty phone call from a top city official who was angry that I'd called Palmer, adding "we're very busy, we have dozens of pipes that have leaks" and that they'd get to my street when they were good and ready. The very clear message I got was that the city didn't appreciate calls from residents about problems within its jurisdiction, so I never made such a call again.

While city staffers and their supporters on the council and among a few local activists perfect the art of circling the wagons against any outside inquiry into how they conduct their business, a community long derided for its blight keeps getting worse. The specter of rottweilers and pit bulls breaking loose make many of its streets unwalkable; red-tagged and abandoned houses with overgrown lawns and abandoned cars pollute the landscape; pot farms cause an eyesore while stinking up neighborhoods; and gang activity makes the parks unsafe for families at night. And property values have plummeted, in some cases to one-fifth of what their value was in the middle of the last decade. Last I checked, more than 100 foreclosed homes still sat vacant in the city.

The fact is that Shasta Lake's City Hall has seemed to have a closed, cliquish, heads-in-the-sand, don't-you-dare-question-me culture that dates back, probably to near the city's founding. If Dolores Lucero has gone all Newt Gingrich on the situation and done more harm than good, then she won't last (though I suspect her fate in some circles was sealed with her election-night remark that the outcome would be "in God's hands"). But somebody -- left, right or center -- would do well to bring some accountability to the place so it can more effectively address the community's ills. Otherwise, expect the gang sweeps to continue, the blight to keep getting worse and the property values to keep falling.

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