Over the Hill

Paso Robles once took care of itself

This isn’t your grandfather’s Paso Robles anymore. I’ve suspected that for several years but didn’t want to admit it. I finally faced it Tuesday when Paso voters rejected the water rate increase.

Mamie and I came back here for good in 1962. Paso Robles felt to us like an outpost that knew how to take care of itself and was proud to do so.

Paso Roblans once built their own hospital. In 1945 some people from Paso Robles and nearby areas formed the Paso Robles Hospital District, the first one in California. The district voters approved a bond issue, and in 1950 the 32-bed War Memorial Hospital opened. It closed in 1977, the same day Twin Cities Community Hospital opened in Templeton.

Also about 1946, some folks in and around Paso Robles decided the county fair should be here. Twenty or so families donated $1,000 each, and the city also put in some money. That began what is now the California Mid-State Fair.

Paso Robles has had its own library since 1902. It’s now housed in a two-story building that was built in 1995 after a fund drive. City Hall occupies the second floor on a “temporary” basis. The Paso library is independent and not a branch of the county library.

Paso Robles also owns a municipal airport, a municipal dump, two multilane bridges over the Salinas River and a public safety center that fills a whole block.

But growth seems to have flooded out the old outpost ways of pitching in and chipping in. Between 1970 and 1980, Paso Robles’ population more than doubled, from 9,100 to 18,500. There wasn’t time for the newcomers to be assimilated. (The population is now almost 30,000.)

While attending City Council meetings in the 1970s and ’80s, I could usually spot people from the new, large eastside developments. When addressing the council, they sounded like guests at a resort complaining to the management, not like members of the community. I guessed they came from big cities where they saw city government as oppressive and impersonal.

So when the City Council seized the opportunity to enlarge the city water supply, many of the later Roblans didn’t see the benefit, just the expense. They saw the council as oppressors, not fellow Roblans. And they couldn’t believe their water should cost more even though everything else does.

Without the higher water rates, the city will fall $3.5 million short of what it needs annually for the water bonds and operating expenses. The new Paso Robles attitude will now be: share and share alike — in the pain.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.