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Is Redding Dying?

If you’ve not seen the documentary, “Seattle is Dying” then you’re one of the few who’ve missed watching the film that’s been viewed nearly 5 million times, produced by Seattle ABC television station KOMO.

Screen shot from “Seattle is Dying”.

It tells the story of Seattle, whose citizens are falling out of love with their city because of the skyrocketing crimes, tent cities, garbage everywhere, out-of-control drug use and increased numbers of mentally ill, criminals and addicted people living on the streets.

Screen shot from “Seattle is Dying”.

One Seattle resident in the documentary said he’s embarrassed about his hometown city, a place for which he once felt pride for its natural beauty, a place he said now looks like “shit”.

Screen shot from “Seattle is Dying”.

Seattle’s public spaces contain feces, urine, needles, as well as the source of the mess; people who use those spaces as their bedrooms and bathrooms.

Ring a bell, Redding?

Tuesday evening the Shasta Builder’s Exchange hosted a free community meeting moderated by Shasta County Supervisor Joe Chimenti at the Cascade Theatre where the audience watched  the hour-and-a-half long “Seattle is Dying” and then listened to three north state speakers: Dr. Greg Greenberg, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett and Anderson Police Chief Mike Johnson.

The theater’s balcony was closed, but most of the seats were filled on the lower level, at least during the film. Some people left when the documentary was over, and didn’t stay to hear the speakers.

Who knows whether the documentary will ever actually help Seattle, but I have no doubt it’s causing communities like ours around the country to freak out and pay attention, lest we end up like poor Seattle. At the moment, Seattle’s troubles are serving as a spectacularly good – bad – example of a once-grand American city on the skids.

Joe Chimenti

Chimenti described the meeting as a community “intervention”. He acknowledged that mistakes had been made (some of which Chimenti said he was “partly sorry” ) and all we could do is move forward to find solutions.

The evening’s not-so-subtle message: Act fast so we don’t end up like sad-sack Seattle.

The film, which I’ve seen four times now, had the audience’s rapt attention. There was one segment, where someone in the film defended Seattle’s city council as feeling overwhelmed by the city’s problems, to which the person in the film became angry and said the council members were idiots, which elicited a round of applause and laughter inside the Redding theater.

Harsh? Perhaps. But clearly, when it comes to Redding’s nearly decade-long decline and decay, citizens who’ve chosen to stay are fed up and want solutions. When do we want them? Yesterday.

Documentaries like “Seattle is Dying” leave us feeling as if we can see legions of walking dead gaining on us in Redding’s rear-view mirror, and we’re scared shitless that we can’t outrun them and they’re going to eat us alive.

The speakers

Greenberg went first, and talked about the science of addiction, a topic he’s shared here at length here on ANC.

Greg Greenberg

Greenberg explained how, for many addicts, it’s not that they’re using various drugs so much as to get high, but that they’re “chasing the dragon” — that elusive unattainable first-time-never-to-be-repeated euphoria. Greenberg said that for many addicts, they’re nearly powerless to stop using drugs because they’re just trying to feel normal.

Greenberg is a proponent of medically assisted treatment – MAT – for addicts, something that was touched on as a potential solution in “Seattle is Dying” when it highlighted a program that’s achieved some measure of success in Rhode Island that’s helped break addiction cycles and restore lives.

For Greenberg, breaking cycles is his ultimate goal; if not in that particular addicted patient, then to prevent the patient’s children and grandchildren from a lifetime of suffering; battling the same ancestral addiction demons.

DA Bridgett began her remarks by ostensibly putting minds at ease with, “We are not like Seattle,” and assurances that Shasta County was “not as bad as what we just watched”.

Still staying positive, Bridgett said the north state has an opportunity to not be the next Seattle, which is just another way of saying that if we miss this opportunity, we could very well end up Just Like Seattle. No pressure.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett.

She talked about the north state’s assets, such as easy access to outdoor wonders like lakes and mountains and waterfalls. But she also said that our region is manifesting changes that have befallen us for the last six to eight years – and not for the better: addicted people living on the streets, hundreds of thousands of pounds of garbage collected in encampments each year, a revolving door of criminals arrested and released, sometimes dozens of times per perp.

Bridgett referred to various legislation that she said contributed to and exacerbated what we’re seeing on Redding streets, such as AB109 and propositions 47 and 57. She said something must change, because her department cannot continue handling 10,000 cases a year with just 26 prosecutors.

As an aside, she said there are plenty of resources available for help and treatment, but many people — often those most in need of help — will not avail themselves of those services.

“We’ve got to do something different,” she said. “We need to be proactive and create more beds.”

By “more beds” she’s talking of her dream of the 900- to 1,000-range.

But Bridgett acknowledged that solutions extend beyond jail beds. She said there must be resources available during incarceration so those with addiction issues can receive life-changing help while they’re serving time. And, by the way, if Bridgett were queen – and here in Shasta County, she pretty much is – those resources would not be optional.

“You receive treatment while you’re there, or you stay in jail,” Bridgett said, to a round of hearty applause.

“We need to come together and support a solution,” she said. “And we cannot wait for the state, because they’re not going to help.”

She said if anything, the state only makes things worse with regard to help with law enforcement.

Speaking of law enforcement, there was no representation from the Redding Police Department, which seemed rather odd considering Redding’s the county seat, and it has the lion’s share of issues with regard to homelessness and crime.

At any rate, Anderson Police Chief Michael Johnson was up next. He told how the city of Anderson was previously characterized as the “red-headed stepchild of Shasta County law enforcement” — a perception he’s worked hard to change in his department, starting with his staff.  Duly noted.

He said Shasta County faces “a huge problem if we don’t come up with a plan and get everyone on the same page”. He added that the issues that vex Shasta County are about more than homelessness.

Like Bridgett, he drove home the point of the ideal link between incarceration and rehabilitation.

“It’s about our quality of life,” he said. “We need incarceration and enforcement. We need to have the hammer to get them into programs or they stay in jail. Accountability is crucial.”

Anderson Police Chief Michael Johnson. Photo source: Anderson Police Department website.

He said that Shasta County’s current environment lacks accountability for those who break the law, which explains why the criminal element has flourished.

Even so, Johnson said that he’s an optimist, and said that even while preparing his speech and giving it a title to save on his computer, he changed it from his initial, “Redding is dying” to “Save Shasta”.

The 1-penny pitch

Chimenti returned to the stage, and reiterated the evening’s prevailing philosophy: “Incarceration provides opportunities for rehabilitation.”

He then introduced a series of slides that appeared on the massive theater screen that offered a way for citizens to participate in their community as “shareholders” and “investors” to fund exactly the kinds of resources and programs mentioned by the evening’s speakers.

The slides spelled out the details:

The ongoing funding of this plan is a 1 cent (1%) Countywide, Specific Transactions & Use Tax.

In compliance with the law, these funds can only be used in the investment areas of specifically designated in the ballot measure to mitigate criminal behavior.

These funds will be used exclusively for renovating, maintaining and building new jail space and new personnel in the Criminal Justice System. 

These funds cannot be used for any existing expenses, unfunded liabilities supplanting of exiting budgets or any other purposes.

Next came the breakdown for the annual “investment areas” list:

$8,751,600 for building, renovating and maintaining detention facilities; and a target of 500 jail beds, including the Transitional Rehabilitation Facility and an inmate work camp.

$5,834,400 for staffing detention facilities (approximately 51 new staff).

$3,207,151 for sheriff patrol deputies (approximately 21 new staff).

$4,183,240 for Redding police officers (approximately 25 new staff).

$464,804 for Shasta Lake City deputies (approximately 3 new staff).

$464,804 for Anderson Police officers (approximately 3 new staff).

$1,768,000 for District Attorney (approximately 9 new staff)

$618,800 for Public Defender (approximately 3 new staff)

$530,400 for Probation case workers for mid-level risk (approximately 6 new staff)

$176,800 for yearly 3rd-party audit. 

Total: $26,000,000

One more thing …

Chimenti concluded the evening’s presentation by encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s 9 a,m, Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting and support the presentation of the 1-cent-tax proposal.

He left the audience with one parting slide that gave the website address for a quick survey.

Audience reactions

Outside the theater, I spoke with some people who’d attended the presentation, some of whom agreed to chat, but declined to give their names. It reminded me of a time many decades ago in Redding, when a library measure was on the ballot, and during phone surveys, the majority of voters said why yes, they’d vote for the library measure, of course. I mean, who wouldn’t vote for a library?

The measure failed.

Unpredictable things sometimes happen in the privacy of a voting booth.

Some people’s reluctance to go on the record for this story made me wonder whether this was a reverse situation, where perhaps many of those people personally approved of the sales tax for this go-round, but they were keeping that desire close to their chests, because that proposal took such a controversial beating before, that it might still be deemed unpopular now.

Just speculating …

But I digress.

One bashful man said the evening was interesting enough, and he found Greenberg’s information about addiction especially captivating. But he said he left feeling manipulated by fear to comply with a 1-cent sales tax, and the implied threat that without it, Redding is doomed to become like Seattle.

Another bashful person, a Palo Cedro woman, was pleased she’d attended. “I thought it was great information,” she said. “It gave me a lot to think about.”

Would she support a 1-cent sales tax?

“I need to think about that.”

I rest my case.

Janice Powell, who’s a member of the Shasta Lake City Council, was there with friend Rose Smith, also of Shasta Lake. Powell said that Shasta Lake residents are fortunate because they don’t face many of the unsavory issues that Reddingites encounter every day. However, although she was proud to say that the city of Shasta Lake boasts the county’s lowest crime rate, she said Redding’s problems are Shasta Lake’s problems, too.

“We may not live in Redding, but a lot of our citizens come here to shop,” she said. “We want to feel safe here, too.”

Regarding the proposed sales tax, Powell said she’s keeping an open mind, with a caveat.

“I like the numbers,” she said.  “But there must be accountability.” She said that it’s a given that people don’t like to pay taxes, but when they do, they want oversight. They want to know where the money’s going and how it’s being spent.

One Redding couple, who also declined to give their names (because they said they’re Chimenti’s friends), were upbeat.

“I think it’s a half a step forward in the right direction,” he said. “I like the strong message that incarceration leads to rehabilitation.”

His companion agreed, and said that she sensed the audience was receptive to the information, and that they seemed to exude a positive vibe regarding being open to the proposed 1-cent sales tax.

Finally, I met a mother and daughter who enthusiastically described the evening as “wonderful” – and who spoke on the record.

“What I liked about it is it addressed the core issue, about treating people’s problems,” said Jean Murillo, of Redding.

Murillo, who’s lived in the same Redding home for 50 years, said she’s noticed many unwelcome changes in her city: Crime. Transients. Shopping carts piled high with trash and left on the side of the road. And in her neighborhood, she’s aware of car break-ins,  property theft, and even homeless living in barns and other out buildings for months on end.

Her daughter, Michelle Murillo of Redding, was especially heartened by the concept of seeing the homeless, mentally ill and those with addictions through the lens of kindness, compassion and humanity, as whole, complex individuals.

“I could get behind this vision,” she said. “I like what I heard because it treats the person as if we, as a community, care. It’s about more than putting them in jail, but it’s an opportunity to help save people, and it doesn’t have to be a jail, either. It could even be a detention center. I’d like to see another aspect, that it would treat the entire person – body, soul, and spirit.”

As much as Jean Murillo felt hopeful after the presentation, she also expressed profound frustration to think that Shasta County can’t rely on help from the state.

“Some of the laws stink, and it really upsets me that the state isn’t here for us,” she said. “We need to stand up to the state and tell them, ‘Guess what? You need to help us! No more telling us what you can’t do!’

Exasperation with the state aside, overall, the Murillo women were hopeful that perhaps help is on the horizon, and with any luck, perhaps Redding won’t sink as low as Seattle.

“It’s a good start,” said Jean.

Meanwhile, yesterday, as I do nearly every weekday, I visited the downtown Redding post office to collect my mail (because, you know, mail would be stolen from my home’s mailbox). As I drove down the post office alley, I saw a filthy young woman and dirt-covered young man slumped on the side steps of the Veterans Hall. She had his outstretched arm in one of her hands, while her other hand pushed the lever of a syringe that was attached to his forearm.

Just another day in Redding.

The good news is, at least we’re not dying, like Seattle.

Yet.