Tuesday, June 14, 2011 • Supes tour Herlong LRA properties

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, June 14, 2011, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Lots of surprisingly positive and stingingly negative comments swirled and bounced around as the members of the Lassen County Board of Supervisors (meeting at the Local Reuse Authority), county staffers and a few community members toured the county’s LRA properties in Herlong Tuesday, June 7.

Lassen County Supervisors Bob Pyle, left, and Jim Chapman, right, check out the food pantry at the Herlong One Stop building.

But all those comments aside — District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle probably said it best when he characterized what he saw as “The good, the bad and the ugly.”

Let’s be clear, many on the tour did not hold back their praise or their distain as the party walked back and forth across a complex of excess properties near Sierra Army Depot the county acquired at no cost during the Base Realignment and Closure process that began in 1995.

This housing unit features 48 dorm style rooms, but it hasn’t been used since the U.S. Army donated the property to Lassen County in 1995.

Some criticized the supervisors for not spending enough on the properties. Others expressed exactly the opposite view — that the whole economic development process was a waste of the county’s money.

The buildings once were the heart of the base during the glory days when SIAD was an active U.S. Army base staffed by hundreds of military personnel whose children packed the local schools and the operations in these old buildings all prospered. The remnants — streets, curbs and cul-de-sacs — of a long-abandoned housing project lie nearby where the concrete decays to rocky rubble and the grasses, sedges and weeds reclaim the asphalt.

Connie Jenkins, left, of Jenkins Realty and Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson enjoy a delightful office space in one of the Local Reuse Authority buildings in Herlong.

No, those glory days have passed, and the base now has only one military commander and hundreds of civilian workers, most of whom live, shop and recreate far from the base, leaving Herlong as a small but proud community anxiously looking to the future on the edge of the Great Basin Desert a few miles from a dusty and desolate stretch of Highway 395 with its time as a vibrant military town receding farther and farther from memory with each passing day.

This thrift store offers clothing, furniture and appliances in a Local Reuse Authority Building in Herlong. One of the workers noted if you need to buy a pair of socks or a toaster, you can get them here or you can drive 50 miles to Reno or Susanville.

Sure, the participants visited an old army dining hall that hasn’t been used for about 16 years equipped with what Joe Bertotti, Lassen County’s economic development director called “a million dollar kitchen” that is now a home for battalions and battalions of rats (given the piles of droppings on the floor), an old army dormitory building complex that was slowly deteriorating through non-use, and an old theatre and an old gym with bad ceilings and floors because the roofs could no longer keep the water out.

Joe Bertotti, Lassen County’s economic development director explains the problems at the old theatre in Herlong. Bertotti said some ceiling tiles that had fallen onto the floor that had been damaged by a leaking roof would be cleaned up and the theatre will be used for a graduation ceremony later this month.

They even saw two old army barracks buildings one visitor suggested the fire department could set on fire and use for training until he heard about the deadly asbestos siding that would have to be removed first. He quickly decided burning the buildings down probably was a bad idea given the health risk that action would pose for fire fighters and people breathing in the area.

The Gas House Deli is one of the Local Reuse Authority success stories. The business operates out of an old gas station building and serves food, snacks and beverages. The owners of the deli reportedly have offered to buy the building if the county wants to sell it.

They also visited aging but perfectly functional buildings that buzzed with activity and housed a number of county agencies, a post office, a thrift store, a real estate office, an operating deli and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Some of the buildings and offices were in better condition than others, but all were up and running and serving a purpose.

Rick Flores, center, explains how the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Herlong has been refurbished by VFW members. The building also is available for use by Herlong community groups.

For every ramshackle, overgrown, rundown disaster the visitors saw, there was a shinning measure of some success right around the corner.

Scattered here and there in the area were properties given to the Susanville Indian Rancheria.

The supervisors even stopped by the new Herlong Public Utility District Pump Station — part of a $3 million investment in vital infrastructure for the area.

Pat Williams, center, shows off the pumping station for the Herlong Public Utility District. According to Williams, the district has about $3 million in assets in the community.

Pat Williams, the district’s general manager, said the district provides water and wastewater services to many in the area. It hopes to expand its offerings in the future.

No action
The board took no action during the tour.

“The purpose of this meeting is to go tour the property and look at each of the buildings,” said Jim Chapman, board chair. “We’ve had a number of complaints lodged with the board concerning the condition of the property, and that’s what we’re here for — to see if the complaints are true or not or if they’re in between.”

The asbestos in the siding of these two World War II era barracks pose a health hazard for anyone who wants to use or destroy them.

Chapman said the board might have a better idea of what to do with these assets following the tour.

The board’s clerk has been working to compile a record of the board’s work with the properties, Chapman said, so the board could review the actions it has taken, the public hearings that have been conducted, “the plans that have been written and have been adopted, maybe ignored and rewritten and readopted and reignored what ever the case may be.”

Chapman noted the board has struggled with these excess properties since the beginning.

The Fort Sage One Stop Center building houses a number of pleasant offices including the Lassen County Health and Social Services Department, the Family Resource Center, the Lassen Aurora Network as well as a chapel used by the Catholic Church and a community center room.

“This is not something that’s been a recent issue,” Chapman said. “It’s one that’s been going on now for well over 15 years.”

According to Chapman, the issue is does the board approve a $70,000 loan or budget transfer as it has in years past to keep the economic development process in Herlong moving forward.

He noted a former county administrator first brought a proposal for this type of transfer to the board in 1997 to cover expenses incurred from day one.

“The fact that we have this $70,000 question before us is not something new,” Chapman said. “It’s something that’s consistent and reoccurring and the issue is the county’s budget is not in the shape it can just dole out $70,000 at will. If we’re not going to be able to subsidize the operation by that amount, we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do with these buildings and these assets. If we’re not able to take care of them or be responsible for them or fund the expenses for them, we need to find people who are willing to do that, and here — the buildings are yours to the level the law allows us to do.”