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Where to House the Homeless and Treat the Addicted? Stillwater Business Park

Stillwater Business Park is a place I have long referred to as (forgive me) Stillbirth Business Park.

Redding Mayor Patrick Jones (in gray suit) cuts the Stillwater Business Park ribbon Friday with realtor Rob Middleton, former EDC chair who also who helped locate the Stillwater property. Looking on are council member Missy McArthur (beside Jones), Redding City Manager Kurt Starman (second from right), and Economic Development Corporation Chair Brad Frost (far right). April 2010.

Then-Mayor Patrick Jones (in gray suit) cuts the Stillwater Business Park ribbon in April of 2010 with realtor Rob Middleton, former EDC chair who also who helped locate the Stillwater property. Looking on are council member Missy McArthur (beside Jones), Redding City Manager Kurt Starman (second from right), and Economic Development Corporation Chair Brad Frost (far right).

Even so, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the well-intentioned folks who came up with the idea of Stillwater Business Park in the first place, before our Great Recession knocked the stuffing out of our economy.

Industrial real estate is supposed to be hot in California, but Stillwater Business Park isn't selling. Photo by R.V. Schiede.

Industrial real estate is supposed to be hot in California, but Stillwater Business Park sales have run cold. Photo by R.V. Schiede.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that since its groundbreaking in 2010 that unveiled Stillwater’s 700 acres and 16 “ready-to-go” parcels, the park has snagged only one tenant, Lassen Canyon Nursery, a berry-growing business that committed to buying Parcel 7 in 2015, and paid $840,000 for the parcel last year. 

By the way, in December of 2010, Parcel No. 7 was also briefly courted by Southern Aluminum Finishing Company, which eventually went away.

The Redding City Council was so happy to finally have its first official Stillwater buyer that the entire city council agreed to to give Lassen Canyon Nursery $60,000 in credits to use in lieu of various development fees, which could have been significant since the strawberry plant producers planned to build a 20,000-square-foot corporate office, a 30,000-square-foot cooler and a shipping/receiving office.

Reporter Jon Lewis expounded on the rest of the Lassen Canyon Nursery arrangement in his May 5, 2016 Redding City Council story:

City Manager Kurt Starman said the 20 Lassen Canyon jobs will pay an average of $22 an hour, including benefits. As per the city policy, $3,000 in credit is applied for each job created.

To qualify for the credit, Lassen Canyon has to provide the new jobs for a minimum of five years. The new positions will include sales managers, greenhouse technicians, lab manager, warehouse manager, and clerical staff.

Lassen Canyon Nursery’s original plan was to begin operations at Stillwater in 2016. I was curious about the hold-up, so Monday I contacted Elizabeth-Elwood Ponce, one of the nursery’s co-owners, for some clarification. Her reply was brief, but illuminating:

“We do own the lot in Stillwater. We have suspended our building plans. The market for the plants we would be growing there seems to be shrinking. We are holding the land until we find an appropriate project.”

Suspended building plans? That sounds serious.

Things aren’t looking so good at Stillwater when you consider Lassen Canyon Nursery’s latest revelation and combine it with the disappointing news about Emerald Kingdom, the greenhouse manufacturer that took its operation to Red Bluff after its bid for a Stillwater Business Park parcel was rejected.

I’m afraid that with our poor Stillwater Business Park, this isn’t a case of the emperor having no clothes. Rather, when it comes to the Stillwater Business Park, there is no emperor, at least not a live one. The frustrating part is that despite the fact that Stillwater has yet to draw an single unassisted breath, it’s still officially here, languishing on life support. And all the while it’s very existence is costing the city of Redding and its people millions and millions and millions of dollars. And what do we get for that investment? Nearly diddly-squat, that’s what.

stillwater pr image

It’s OK to admit Stillwater Business Park was DOA, and to acknowledge the fact that Stillwater Business Park is no more a thriving business park than Redding’s South City Park is a playground safe for children.

If you want backup, look no further than the Shasta County Grand Jury’s 2017 scathing report, Stillwater Business Park – Still Spending; Still Waiting. Here’s the first paragraph:

The City of Redding and Redding Electric Utility have, together, spent close to $41 million to fund the land and infrastructure development at Stillwater Business Park. The City of Redding continues to spend almost $1 million a year from the General Fund on the project. Stillwater Business Park is located near the Redding Municipal Airport and consists of industrial-ready parcels currently for sale by the City of Redding. City of Redding administrators frequently cite the cost of the project at $23 million, which was the cost to buy and develop the property. However, the cost rises to $41 million when debt repayments and electrical and infrastructure by Redding Electric Utility are included. Future scheduled interest and principal repayments to service long-term bond debt over the next 20 years by both the City of Redding and Redding Electric Utility will increase the total known cost to $59 million if the bond debts are not paid off prior to maturity.

“Total known cost to $59 million . . .”

Let that sink in for a moment. But for a real eye-opener, read the entire report. (Click on the hyperlink above, and scroll down to Stillwater Business Park – Still Spending; Still Waiting.)

The Grand Jury recommended that Redding investigate whether the 700-acre park is even viable, and to come up with other potential uses for the property.

Sometimes, whether it’s a bad marriage or a rotten job or a failing investment (emus, anyone?), there comes a time to admit when something isn’t working. The smart, mature and healthy thing to do is to acknowledge when something’s failed, and then figure out what will work.

I have a use for Stillwater Business Park.  But first, we’d have to accept that Stillwater Business Park will never be a successful business park.

What if we transformed that shovel-ready space into a life-changing and restorative place, not just for the people it served within its borders, but people throughout the entire north state and beyond?

I propose that the current Stillwater Business Park becomes the future Stillwater Park, a healing place away from Redding’s city center that could feature, in part, a state-of-the-art mental health and addiction-recovery center.

I propose the new Stillwater Park also offers basic shelter with showers for the homeless, from veterans and the mentally ill to aged-out foster kids. Think tiny house meets rustic bunkhouse; the kinds of places I would love to reserve for my summer vacation at a state park.

What if, in addition to being a place that provided basic nutrition, clothing, shelter and mental health services for those most in need, the new Stillwater Park offered – and in most cases required – its residents opportunities to work, and learn new skills to the extent where they could eventually become functioning, contributing members of our community again one day?

I see the new Stillwater Park a substance-free place operated with military precision, a voluntary place where the residents accept help in exchange for a commitment of hard work and participation.

What if this new Stillwater Park took advantage of our agriculturally desirable Mediterranean climate and became a place that boasted gardens, orchards, beehives and vineyards that produced and sold vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, honey and wine?

What if Stillwater Park residents raised sheep and chickens that produced and sold wool, cheese and eggs?

What if this new Stillwater Park helped transform Shasta County’s current image from a dead-end, crime-ridden, backwater, come-on-vacation-leave-on-probation Poverty Flats, to a rich and thriving renaissance center, an enviable model of wellness, growth, productivity and compassion?

You want to see something trippy? Take a look at this partial list of Shasta County non-profits.  As you peruse the lists, remember that these non-profits are funded by us – the people. Here’s something else, check out this resource list provided by People of Progress.  What an array of services, right here in the north state. With all those services, you’d think we wouldn’t have a care in the world.

It would be an interesting investigation to determine how much redundancy exists within and between those organizations. And it would be even more interesting to calculate how much money is funneled into those organizations and exactly how much the community actually benefits from those funds. But I digress.

What if the new Stillwater Park was a one-stop center – ala One Safe Place – that offered myriad humane social, educational, vocational and treatment services all in one place?

The way it is now, there are dozens of charitable agencies and non-profits (see above) scattered throughout the north state, many in different buildings, in different locations miles apart, with different hours and days of operation, as well as different requirements for different specialty populations and different hoops to jump through and lots of often-repetitive red-tape-tied paperwork to fill out.

As Trish Clarke, former Shasta County Supervisor, so eloquently put it recently, many of these nonprofits are protecting their own precious little bowls of rice, and they are loathe to share.

I submit, for the sake of the people who urgently need these services — as well as our community, which has reached a boiling point of disgust, fear and dissatisfaction — it’s time for more sharing and less redundancy. It’s time for nonprofit organizations and agencies to collaborate and combine resources for the greater good of us all.

We are sorely in need of a lot of good in our community, because everyone agrees that Redding’s new normal is unacceptable. We are in desperate need of good here in Shasta County, because things are so terribly bad.

Dr. Greg Greenberg aptly expressed in his recent article what many of us feel lately:

“I drive around Redding and I lament how our city has gone downhill, as many of you have. Unfortunately, I’m stuck somewhere between bleeding heart liberal and ‘get the hell out of my town’. These are real people who are suffering and the problem is far more complex than just more police or spikes on benches. They need treatment and compassion, but they also need accountability and responsibility. I don’t know the answer to our growing problem with drugs and homelessness, but clearly something different needs to be done.”

I agree 100 percent with Dr. Greenberg. I also challenge you to imagine that you or someone you love is homeless or nearly homeless, unemployed or nearly unemployed, addicted, or hungry, or suicidal. You need help ASAP. Not next week. Imagine being in a dire situation and trying to navigate the maze of all those nonprofits and agencies to get help before it’s too late.

A person could die – people do die – before getting the help they so desperately need here in our north state.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, read this story about 14-year-old Josh Valdez.

Or this one about Colby Brousseau, written by his mother, .

I could fill this space with hyperlinks to stories like these, but you get the idea.

I’ve written about homelessness, poverty and mental health issues my entire career, and I’ve noticed a pattern. Every time I address those topics – every time – I hear from indignant folks who say something like, “Why didn’t you mention our nonprofit group and all the good we do for this population?”

Cue eye roll. 

Consider that if I, a journalist who’s lived in this city practically forever, was unaware of these programs, how in the world is some zoned-out addict steeped in a heroin haze under the Cypress Street Bridge supposed to know about them?

I have no doubt many of these organizations are stellar, but how can we expect the most downtrodden and despaired to find those places, often without transportation, without food, without money, and many times without the mental and/or emotional wherewithal to do any more than put one foot in front of the other in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter? These people have no bootstraps from which to pull themselves up. Hell, they have no boots.

A woman sleeps with her belongings in the dirt off Pine Street in Redding. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

A woman sleeps with her belongings in the gravel off Pine Street in Redding. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

I believe there’s a reason we are all here. I believe that every one of us possesses unique gifts and callings. Ultimately, I believe that our primary reason for being born is to help – whether it’s helping people, animals or the earth. I also believe that everyone needs a sense of connection and purpose, and without them, our lives lack meaning.

Some studies even suggest the correlation between addictions and isolation, and conversely, how human connections help keep addictions at bay.

That’s where I see the value of Stillwater Park, a healthy, structured place filled with activity, productivity, creativity, and, most of all, tangible hope through supportive human connections and wellness resources.

I also see a boarding-school of sorts on the property for the kids of some of these folks, which would eliminate foster homes, and give broken families access to one another while the parents heal.

How to fund such a Utopian place, you say? For starters, many needy people subsist on some sort of disability income – not enough to actually rent a place and live a civilized life, of course. Besides, who would rent to them in their current sorry state, anyway? Not I. There’s enough money at the beginning of the month for food, maybe a motel room and a shower, and then the rest is blown on mind-and-soul-altering substances that numb the reality of living in the dirt like feral animals. Behold, we have American society’s lowest caste members.

So, in my dreams that disability money could be tapped, somehow. Perhaps at Stillwater Park the residents get vouchers to “buy” things at the Stillwater Park store, and perhaps some of their money is set aside in an account each month so that when they do leave, they have some money saved up for first and last month’s rent so they can one day have a clean, fresh, independent start.

I haven’t figured out that part. Maybe you have an answer. I’m all ears.

Of course, Shasta County and all its towns and cities would be expected to contribute heavily, too. Surrounding counties that wanted to ship its most troubled residents to Stillwater Park would pay dearly for that luxury. But our first priority would be to care for the troubled souls here among us.

And what about those resistant folks who need help but refuse it, who shun the offer of healing and restoration? Those will receive special handouts: a sack lunch and a one-way bus ticket to the city of their choice.

Meanwhile, all those charitable non-profits (I’m not talking about 4-H clubs) would give too, including churches and places of worship of every belief system and denomination. Consider it a form of community tithing, if you will.

No more of the revolving door of churches giving out sleeping bags and tents and clothes that end up dumped in illegal encampments and along riverbanks that are routinely raided and leveled by police and community clean-up crews, followed by well-meaning people who give yet more sleeping bags and tents and clothes to these needy people all over again. And over and over and over again.

Illegal encampments are routinely leveled, only to reappear elsewhere.

Illegal encampments are routinely leveled, only to reappear elsewhere.

What a waste. And how merciless to think that handing out tents and sleeping bags to the least among us is good enough, knowing full well that these people must go illegally “camp” in unsanitary conditions that would drive any of us to drink? In what altered reality does that unwashed, unfed, unhealthy refugee-model make sense here in the supposedly great United States of America? Surely, we’re better than that.

Just another day in Library Park.

Just another day in Library Park.

Additional funding can come from the hospitals, health centers and clinics that are currently overrun with the homeless and addicted, places that have become unsafe and unsavory for employees and patients alike.

But the biggest piece of the puzzle is us. What if we the people – all of us – contributed?

I’d much rather put money directly to a place that actually helps people who have addiction and mental health issues than pay for more cops to arrest more people who will only be released and arrested, released and arrested. Over and over again.

Friend Sona Shahbazi, formerly of Redding, posed it this way on her Facebook page, regarding helping people with addiction issues in particular:

“Maybe the community needs to put together a nonprofit organization that will address these issues. But it’s going to take more than just getting these people clean. They’re going to need resources and tools so that they can be productive members of the community. . . And if you can’t get the funding for a nonprofit, then start a Go Fund Me account. I know I would donate $20 a month for my hometown. Anybody willing to match that or raise it? $20 times 1,600 people would bring $32,000 a month. The last time I checked Redding’s population was more than 1,600 people. It’s time for the people to start taking care of their own. Because relying on city leaders or anyone above to address these problems is not going to happen.”

Amen, Sona. Now, extrapolate her concept of giving to not just her modest sample of 1,600 people, but every north state adult, and we’re talking real money for real change.

There are myriad organizations – God bless them every one – that do their best to feed some of the homeless. I say “some” because there are many street people who go without food and water, which is why you’ll see scruffy people going through fast-food garbage cans.

But just feeding the homeless is a teasing – dare I say cruel – form of life support that offers sustenance to enable the down-and-out to exist yet another miserable day, only to experience another sunrise and another 24 hours of a mind-numbingly hopeless, shitty, depressing existence. Big whoop. And we give ourselves bonus points for feeding the hungry on Thanksgiving and Christmas so we don’t feel so damn guilty.

Better still would be the more humane component of not just giving the needy food, or even clothing and shelter, but adding an improved 24/7 quality of life to the mix, as well as dignity, topped with a sense of worth, hope and human value.

If a staggering, skinny dog was seen wandering down Miracle Mile, someone would surely call Haven Humane Society and in a jiffy its dedicated officers would rush in and save the poor creature.

We see down-and-out people every day along our streets, behind our buildings, in our ravines and in our neighborhoods. We see them in our library where they doze on urine-soaked chairs. We see thin, sunburned, filthy people passed out on the lawn of our Redding City Hall, post offices and parking lots.

homeless asleep - morguefile photo

And yes, we see them wandering down Miracle Mile. We complain about people who poop, pee and have sex out in the open – yes, like animals, we say. Well, where are humans supposed to do all those human functions, when they lack the privacy of a place of their own?

Most of our street people look far worse than my hypothetical skinny, starving, thirsty dog. Even so, there’s nobody to call for help, unless there’s a crime in progress.

I’m here to tell you that here is a crime in progress; a crime against humanity, and it’s happening right here in our community.

Stillwater Park might be one solution to help our community. Plus, it might be the solution to finally give Stillwater Business Park a sense of purpose, too.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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