By Tia Will
This piece is solely my opinion. Your opinions are appreciated and welcomed.
We frequently hear the term “throw away society” used to describe American culture today. Wikipedia provides the following definition: The throw–away society is a human society strongly influenced by consumerism. The term describes a critical view of overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items.
I suggest that our city, our leaders, our community, & our citizens have acted in exactly this way with regard to the site that previously housed Families First and will soon be the location of the Sterling development. In 2013, longstanding problems involving neglect and failure to supervise pre-teens and teens adequately at the EMQ/Families First site located on 5th St between the Post Office and Police Department spiraled out of control per police reports. The result was accusations of rape, loss of license for the facility, and a costly law suit. These events resulted in the vacancy of the facility for the past 4 years.
The facility had the capacity to house up to 60 adolescents suffering from mental health challenges, some severe. It consisted of an attractive cluster of relatively new buildings still in good
shape with many years of potential use. And yet, on my walk this morning, I found them in a state of partial demolition. I knew this was going to happen. I have loosely followed this story, have made comments on the Vanguard, but truthfully, unlike the adjacent residents who spoke against the Sterling project more forcefully, the loss of the facility did not strike me emotionally until this morning.
With regard to other projects, I have been asked by some: “Where were you when…?” The answer is nearly always the same. I was too wrapped up in other projects or my own life to pay more attention. With regard to this site, I have sincere regrets. One might wonder, “Why speak out now? It will not change anything.” With regard to the Sterling project, that is accurate. I am speaking out now, in my personal version of “What Happened” hoping that I will not make the same mistake again, and more importantly, hoping that others may become more aware of what they can do the next time we have an opportunity not to waste what we already have.
So, what could I personally have done?
- I could have spoken out at City Council or written letters to the Vanguard & Enterprise. I could have submitted articles. I could have tabled at Farmer’s Market to increase awareness and gain support for an alternative plan.
- I could have spoken at the county Board of Supervisors as I have done with other issues in the hopes of generating support for a collaborative project.
- I could have developed an idea based on other community needs and pitched it to organizations in town such as the interfaith community, our downtown business owners, the university, the city. We have many community needs such as housing for homeless, students and young adults transitioning from foster care, temporary housing for victims of domestic abuse, temporary housing for those undergoing addiction treatment, currently although not predictably this site could have provided emergency shelter for those displaced by natural disasters, not just student housing (although this site could potentially have housed up to sixty students by previously stated standards).
- As a member of the Yolo County Health Advisory Committee and the county’s Maternal Child and Adolescent Health Advisory Board I could have spoken out in either of these venues for an alternative proposal which could have been presented to the Board of Supervisors and City Council as an alternative promoted by those groups.
- Applied for a position on a City commission.
A current city leader expressed to me frustration about unsuccessful efforts to find an alternative proposal for this site. I do not know what efforts were made, how often, how intensely, or how far reaching. What else could our city leaders have done? I do not know. All I know is that just like my own efforts, their actions proved inadequate. The result has been the “throwing away” of an attractive and sound resource that was available to our city. I see this as a terrible waste of both the physical structures and the opportunity to house a needed program. Is it all bad? Of course not. I recognize that student housing is a true community need. But perhaps as noted at this week’s Vanguard conclave, available sites on campus might have been more appropriate given the already available space not requiring destruction of a usable facility.
Would my potential actions or those of city leaders have made any difference? Maybe not. Perhaps regardless of more intense efforts to utilize this site we would still be bulldozing those buildings today. However, I also know that our lack of action as individual citizens and community leaders guaranteed that this would be the outcome. I hope this will not repeat itself as we look to the upcoming Core Area Advisory process and the ongoing redevelopment of our city in general.