One of the salient truths about people in Ashland—one that you won’t hear the locals make because they’re too self-absorbed to even consider noticing it, let alone bringing it to the attention of others—is that they and their elected officials are some of the most impractical, otherworldly, grandstanding blowhards you’d ever care not to meet.. Too many fucking artists is one problem, but the rest of Jackson County is in some respects even worse in spite of an attitude that is in many places militantly anti-artiste.

Actually, as a sometime Ashlander with relatives in town, I can’t very accurately appraise the situation in Medford. Ashlanders don’t do Medford. City councilman Greg Lemhouse does, but he’s a special case. For a time, when the hippies in my midst were particularly insufferable, I often fantasized about getting away to Medford for mental health breaks back on Planet Earth. Lately, I’ve shied away from this interest, since the nightlife in the Medford drinking district is distinguised by knife fights among civilians and Terry stop heaven for a night watch street gang of Medford cops who call themselves the “Reservoir Dawgs.” No, I didn’t misspell it. That spelling was used by a Mail-Tribune reporter who shadowed this gang, including one Sgt. Lemhouse.

As far as I can tell, the Reservoir Dawgs don’t reflect badly so much on the Medford Police Department as on the Reservoir Dawgs. The brass evidently wasn’t keeping the Dawgs on a short enough leash, but the gang sounded like a group of renegades who weren’t particularly interested in obeying the command authority of anyone with a belief in the Fourth Amendment. And why do I call the Reservoir Dawgs a street gang? Because if you prowl around town with restraints and deadly weapons and tell the newspaper, “if you’re out on the street at night, we WILL talk to you,” you’re in a fucking street gang. Case closed.

Oddly, the Medford Police Department seems to be one of the more enlightened police forces in Jackson County. The sheriff, Mike Winters, spent his reelection campaign a few years ago smearing the Medford PD for not providing officers for his narcotics task force, JACNET. Winters’ real purpose was to smear his opponent, Tim George, then a Medford police lieutenant, as a candy-ass liberal. Thanks to this campaign, Lt. George became Assistant Chief George and Winters remained the “sheriff of ALL of Jackson County.” The Medford Police Department remained the police department of the entire city of Medford, but not the rest of Jackson County, although it does lend out officers for special events, including Ashland’s annual Halloween blowout. The Medford cops I’ve seen at Halloween have always seemed a decent, well-disciplined bunch, definitely a cut above Sheriff Winters in his odder and more belligerent moments.

Ashlanders are in the habit of insisting that they’re the reasonable ones in an otherwise unreasonable, unenlightened county. That’s bullshit. The whole county is unreasonable. Sheriff Winters sends an uninvited standby goon squad of deputies and a paddy wagon to anti-war demonstrations in Ashland, and subsquently gets reelected; Eric Navickas protests what he considers bad environmental policy by setting fire to trash cans at the County Expo and is subsequently elected to the Ashland City Council. In the wide-open spaces of the West, there’s room for more than one horse’s ass.

There has been an awful kerfuffle in recent years about the proposed expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area, which is located at the alpine-subalpine interface at the southern end of the Bear Creek watershed, which serves Ashland and, ultimately, Medford, Grants Pass and a number of important agricultural districts in the Rogue Valley. The expansion opponents insist that expansion will irreparably ruin the watershed, which sounds like a gross exaggeration. The proponents insist that denial of the expansion permit will financially ruin the ski area by denying it the flat terrain that it needs to be in any way viable, which also sounds like a gross exaggeration, especially for a ski park whose marketing catchphrase is “it’s steeper here.” Some things you can’t make up. The only obvious winners in this battle are the attorneys. The birds and the fish and the other beasties won’t give a shit one way or the other. I haven’t read the environmental impact statements, but I’m pretty familiar with the terrain at and around the ski area. The proposed expansion is to cover something like a hundred and fifty acres; I forget the exact acreage, so readers interested in the specifics can do their own research, as this isn’t a research paper. In any event, the amount of land to be cleared for new terrain is a negligible portion of the Ashland watershed, let alone the Rogue watershed, and it will be reseeded in short order with grass or other low ground cover.

I have this sneaking suspicion that the project will not silt the bejesus out of downstream creeks and kill all their fish life. As I alluded to above, I have this other sneaking suspicion that the failure of this proposal will not bankrupt the Mt. Ashland Association, provided that its board of directors doesn’t go totally apeshit. This proviso is completely unreasonable, as the board is clearly run by warriors, not diplomats. The situation is like our foreign policy, except that the Association can’t print more money when it runs out.

The Mount Ashland donnybrook is a microcosm of land use policy throughout the West. Business interests swear by God that jobs will be lost and the economy ruined if they aren’t allowed to do whatever the hell they want to their land, which is often actually federal land leased at below-market rates, and which land use is often indescribably worse than what is proposed for Mount Ashland. It’s all about the size and slope of the clearcut, the size of the mine, the volume of the bullshit, and the old-school claimstakers aren’t bashful about asking for seconds of manifest destiny. The enviros, for their part, swear by Gaia that any logging, any grazing, any mining, or anything else that isn’t totally eco-groovy will result in the total, irremediable ruination of a part of Mother Earth. Voices of reason rarely shout either belligerent party down, with the result of regional politics turning into a blood sport.

The really charming thing is that environmental concerns are a convenient cover for Nimbyism. The Mount Ashland expansion opponents aren’t NIMBYs, as the land in question is entirely public for miles, but plenty of their neighbors are. A local textbook case of Nimbyism under false cover of environmental concern involved a four-acre section of utterly unexceptional maple forest and oak scrub located along Westwood Street in the city of Ashland. This piece of land was part of an unimproved, unofficial greenbelt owned by the city. When the city proposed rezoning it into one-acre residential lots as part of a land swap to facilitate the construction of low-income housing in another neighborhood, the neighbors went bonkers over the desecration of their beloved Westwood Park. “Westwood Park” was, of course, a neologism employed to make the parcels in question sound like an irreplaceable part of the municipal public space, which they most certainly were not. I attended a public meeting at which friends of Westwood Park, most of them members of an ad hoc organization by the same name, waxed eloquent about the impending loss of critical flyway habitat for migratory birds and contiguous forest habitat for wild mammals. It was exquisite rubbish. It’s hard to describe the sheer amount of functionally identical habitat throughout the hills around Ashland, and in point of fact much of the land on these parcels would remain undisturbed, as would the adjacent length of the canyon that was allegedly such a critical wildlife habitat.

What was clearly really at stake wasn’t all of God’s wild creatures. It was the construction of four new houses on one-acre lots on the edge of a neighborhood that had long been zoned and built in the same fashion. A bunch of rich people with big houses didn’t want other rich people moving into their neighborhood and building big houses of their own. The established rich folk expected the Parks Department to hold an obscure piece of public land in trust for them so that they could limit the number and location of their neighbors without paying the purchase price or property taxes on nearby pieces of land that they didn’t want developed. There’s no way to describe the crassness and selfishness of their effort to hijack city government to serve their own narrow interests rather than the commonweal.

The other bizarre line of argument involved the alleged urbanization of Ashland. One of the neighborhood twits stood up and thundered about how that kind of development “will turn us into just another big city! We don’t want to turn into San Francisco! We don’t want to turn into Seattle! We don’t want to turn into Portland!” Portland is one of the safest, cleanest large cities in the United States, and home to one of the nation’s greatest urban park systems. Listening to this blowhard screech, one might have thought that it was a crackhead-infested postindustrial wasteland, Detroit on the Willamette. Portland, of all places, was the sort of hellhole that Ashland must not become.

There is a stunningly common notion around Ashland that Ashland is not a city. It’s supposedly a town, or something, because referring to it as a city is an affront to its character. This claim is utmost bullshit. For one thing, damned if the municipality isn’t officially called the City of Ashland. More importantly, it is geographically and functionally a small, compact, somewhat densely populated urban center of about twenty thousand, surrounded by a few small pockets of inner suburban sprawl and large expanses of agricultural land, pasture, chapparral and forest. That doesn’t constitute a city because some militant country bumpkins find the term offensive? Well, fuck me.

It’s ridiculous to insinuate that permitting the construction of four new houses on one-acre lots on the edge of an existing neighborhood of one-acre lots will cause a city of 20,000 to mushroom to 500,000 or 750,000, especially under current land use regulations. It’s equally ridiculous, however, to imply that Portland is an urban clusterfuck, because it simply is not. The locals won’t like to read this, but I find that much of the city of Ashland has a very similar feel to Portland. Most of Portland, like most of Ashland, has manageable traffic; unlike Ashland, it also has a comprehensive bus system that runs seven days a week and, in a number of districts, light rail rapid transit. The don’t-let-us-become-Portland smear is completely ungrounded in reality.

The explanation for this rabid anti-urban bias is that many Ashlanders are refugees from the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and other large cities, hometowns that many of them have come to viscerally hate. Quite a few fled the cities in the 1960s or ’70s, during the nadir of urban neglect in America, although much more recent refugees, even from the last two years, are almost as rabidly anti-urban. It’s really sick. As a former resident of Philadelphia, I’m appalled to hear screeds about big cities having no open space, being ugly and unnavigable, ad nauseam. I recently heard a sob story from a Seattle transplant about how awful it was to run into friends and neighbors on park trails: “I was trying to get away from you people!” Cry me a fucking river.

I hear the same pathetic complaint from hiking partners when other people are parked at what they consider their own trailheads. These aren’t fucking study rooms at a college library that can be reserved for private use. As public lands open to the public, they may be freely entered at any time by any member of the public, and don’tcha know, you and I aren’t the entire public. But you dasn’t say such a thing to an Ashlander, because it would be too public-spirited. Even people who have their own private land have an expectation of exclusive use of nearby public lands at a moment’s notice, and an expectation not to be interrupted when they abandon all decorum by complaining about other members of the public using public land. That’s how Ashlanders roll.

The disgustingly hypocritical thing is that Ashland is a hotbed of progressive politics. Since days of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the cornerstones of progressive politics has been the conservation of public lands for public use. In that tradition, popular sentiment in Ashland is strongly supportive of the proposed establishment of a new national monument in the Cascades. The simultaneous espousal of progressive politics, by almost any definition of the term, and disdain for other people using public lands that one considers one’s own, is repulsive.

Being so enlightened and progressive, Ashlanders are of course scrupulously environmentally correct. Environmental insensitivity is for Republican pigs in Medford, people like Sal Esquivel, a Republican state senator who has been accused by at least one good Ashland lefty of being AWOL from the Beaner Reservation because his kind’s supposed to be Democrats. (Esquivel has a very pronounced Oregon accent, unlike most of his Ashland critics, but as far as the lefties are concerned, that ungrateful wetback…) That said, Ashland being a town of intuitive, idealistic artists and such, the important thing isn’t to do the right thing, but to talk about doing the right thing and to project the right image. Talk may be cheap to a Medford Republican, but not to an Ashland bullshit artist, and contrary to popular belief, you can bullshit a bullshitter. In fact, if the goal is to bullshit someone, the best target is a bullshitter, who is most likely heavily invested in credence before bullshit as a matter of principle. That includes Republican bullshit artists, such as Sal Esquivel when he repeats Republican National Committee talking points about lazy bums who would rather complain about Wall Street than get jobs even though there’s enough work for everyone who wants it. I’ve already contradicted myself, so I should clarify: leftist claptrap is cheap to Medford Republicans; I don’t know precisely what sorts of mental garbage they hold sacrosanct, but of the RNC and the Tea Party are any indication, it’s as putrid as Secaucus.

It’s all about knowing your audience: serve them the right sort of shit sandwich, and they’ll beg for seconds. In Ashland, it had better be on groovy, organic, whole-grain bread, or the audience will turn up its noses in haughty disdain. The important thing is not to pull a Gandhi and tell them to be the change that they want to see. Especially if it means not driving everywhere. Agree with their assertion that it’s incumbent on the authorities to magically provide a perfect public transportation system that everyone will use, even if they purposefully chose to relocate from a place a mile from a commuter rail station to a place ten miles from the nearest bus stop. Portlanders have been accused of supporting what the Onion called “mass transit for other people,” but the ridership numbers show a lot less vicarious travel on Tri-Met than on RVTD Route 10. In fact, studies show that much of Tri-Met’s vicarious ridership is from theoretical Portlanders, while RVTD’s is entirely local.

When talking to Ashlanders, agree with their assertion that it’s the responsibility of someone else, especially some tacky fucker in the big city, to conserve electricity while the refined people of Ashland await the arrival of renewable energy technologies that will enable them to power not only their houses but their Subarus as well. Don’t tell them that scalability problems with renewable energy technologies will force the use of coal and natural gas to replace the electricity lost from the decommissioning of hydroelectric dams; that’s just not cool. Once in a blue moon, you might find one who suggests that nuclear power is an important part of the mix, but be careful about raising the subject, because nuclear isn’t cool, either. Don’t express any gratitude for hydroelectric dams, because they kill fish and impede the flow of wild rivers. Whatever you do, don’t express any admiration for local, reliable, renewable hydroelectric power on the Klamath River. The Klamath be undammed; therefore, the Boyle Powerhouse be damned.

Above all, don’t tell them that we’re dicking around in the Middle East to get oil for their cars, too.

The important thing to remember is that as far as Ashlanders are concerned, especially the rural ones, things necessary for a functional society just fall into place due to sheer willpower. Or don’t. RVTD doesn’t provide desultory service, and none on weekends, because Jackson County’s voters don’t give a damn about public transit and elect dysfunctional representatives to municipal and county government who share their nonpriorities; it provides poor service because the rest of the state and nation, especially the Republican bastards, aren’t doing their part. Also, the vibes probably aren’t quite right because not enough people are talking about someday theoretically taking the bus.

It’s all about the vibes. Good, positive, liberal vibes from God’s gift to humanity, good ol’ liberal country folk who aren’t from the Bay Area anymore, and who certainly aren’t as crass or greedy or selfish as the Republican cretins who populate Medford. Ashlanders aren’t just white people, but the right kind of white people, and unfortunately I’ve heard that said in earnest. They’re White People, and Ashland is something that White People Like. Sal Esquivel may be white, but he isn’t White, and Whitey in Ashland will be sure to remind him of that if he steps out of line, which he has already done by being a Mexican who doesn’t vote as he’s told by his moral superiors up the valley. Greg Lemhouse, one of Ashland’s paler residents, is also a member of its non-White community by virtue of his being a Medford cop involved in shady night watch activities. (Actually, being a Medford cop is enough. For that matter, being a cop or not hating Medford is enough.) Rumor has it that he’s a closet Republican, too.

Lemhouse, Esquivel, Winters—these fellows don’t bring the good vibes. They harsh Ashland’s mellow. The entire city of Medford, and most of Jackson County, harshes Ashland’s mellow by reminding its residents that a lot of the neighbors are reactionary motherfuckers. Or, in any event, not partisan Democrats or Greens, which is the same thing.

Say it ain’t so, Mr. Rogers! How are there conservatives in the Land of Make-Believe? Who let them in? They’re getting in the way of our dreams! All right, we’re also getting in the way of our own dreams by not living in the reality-based community, but at least we aren’t dumbfucks who listen to Rush Limbaugh!

But let us count our blessings. Lemhouse, Esquivel and Winters haven’t harshed Medford’s mellow by setting fire to its trash cans. Navickas, Esquivel and Winters, the last of whom I understand on good authority to be kind of a freak, haven’t harshed its mellow by being Reservoir Dawgs. Lemhouse, Esquivel and Navickas have never deployed the paddy wagon to the Ashland Plaza to scare people. Tim George pretty much stays above the dirty fray, except for when Winters drags him into it by talking shit about the Medford PD for the wrong reasons.

Some people deserve each other.

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