The Cambrian

Viewpoint: No stranger to wanting to build where you can’t necessarily get there from here

Virtually no one locally knows this about me, but in the mid- 90s (about the time of Cambria’s big flood), I faced a situation in my rural, forested,

drought-prone community (sound familiar?) in eastern Washington state that compares to much of what is going on here about water, lot development and growth in general.

It had all the elements rolled into one — the desire of newcomers to build on vacant lots, dissension about how to proceed, concerns about limited water etc. — all in a quite pristine setting.

It etched into my psyche an understanding (and sympathy) for the plight of urban expatriates, of which we have so many in Cambria. Because I was that urban expatriate, certain that my purchase of 5 acres near Goldendale, Wash., (population 3,500) was a slam dunk — right up to the time my environmentally sensitive project was killed by county building officials.

You think Cambria has problems with overlays of bureaucratic meddling (or maybe you don’t think it has enough)? When I tried to build in Washington, the state government had just decided that poorer people on rural acreage (in trailers, mostly) — I dare say the majority in some areas there — needed to upgrade with septic tanks and electrical improvements, or be forced off their land.

And officials didn’t want to hear about an innovative method called strawbale construction, even though I had been lured to the 1,000-acre community by the very founder’s workshops on environmentally sensitive building practices.

The summer I arrived the forest was tinder dry and I vividly recall the birds flocking to my little improvised pond erected just for them — they were so parched that, a la Uncle Remus, they shared the cooling waters only a couple feet away from us rather-threatening humans.

Unlike here in Cambria, at the time an un-built-upon lot could be occupied by a trailer or even small yurt while the owners rustled up the funds to build formally. I happened to be the first in line in the county to apply for a permit to build with straw.

The land/lot was gorgeous, with nearly complete privacy amidst the development where some 300 other families and retirees had begun (or even finished) building their homes on forested land much like Cambria’s.

No one was there to rape the land — covenants didn’t allow that. We were trying to build a sustainable, ecological community far from big cities, much as some people have dreamed of doing in Cambria — especially those who have held onto parcels in this town for years waiting for an elusive go ahead.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see sprawling development in Cambria any more than most. I want only neighbors who will respect the environment (and their fellow neighbors). But my conclusion is that it is totally unfair to deny well-intentioned people who have been sold property the right to build responsibly upon it.

Yet that is what ultimately happened to me. On the verge of breaking ground (with dozens of people lined up from three states and Canada to do a community “barn”-raising), the county refused to allow us to go forward despite all the components in place: architectural design support, water and utilities in, and permits applied for.

It all really ruined my life for some time. Eventually I lost the land, my dear wife, and my successful business, The Greener Pastures Institute. And I had been forever scarred.

I think that, like in my community at the time, there are very few conniving developers trying to foist unbridled growth on us. The desal proponents in the CCSD and elsewhere really do have the best interests of the community in mind. I don’t necessarily agree that we should have desal (because of the expense and disruption)

— I prefer conservation— but once achieved, it shouldn’t destroy everything we have here.

Nor should a limited influx of new residents who have been denied building permits/water meters. Naive though they were when they bought their lots, it is simply an egregious injustice to tax and fee them to death indefinitely — and ignore their pain and frustration.

I know very well how communities live and die by the hands of their denizens (I grew up in the L.A. area — Pasadena), a region now the source of much of Cambria’s upstanding citizenry. Cambria is not on the precipice of disaster, and there are plenty here who are determined protectors of all we hold dear. We will have our disagreements, but, as Rodney King, heir to a much harsher environment, once said, “Can’t we all get along?”

Cambria resident William L. Seavey is author of “Moving to Small Town America” (Dearborn Financial), the “Eden Seeker’s Guide” and other books.