Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big Brother Raids R-Own-Ranch & Condemns Property!!!

At Home On The Smith Family's
'R-Own-Ranch' in 1980 Click on photo to enlarge - ©1980/2010 jim otterstrom

Photo left to right; Thelma Smith, Edgar Smith (gramps), Karen Smith (Miller), Peggy Otterstrom, Jim Otterstrom, Ed Smith, Debra Smith, Clark Smith, with Boots & Chewbacca in front.

Just before Peggy and I moved to Big Bear this is where we lived, in that army surplus quonset hut, on the Smith family's 60 acre 'R-Own-Ranch', a secluded paradise two miles up a dirt road from Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu Canyon Road.

We moved here shortly after we were married, and the ranch is also where we started our own family, Jimmy came into the world during our time here.

We were quite happy living alongside this down to earth Old Calabasas family who welcomed us into their lives as if we were born & raised right there with them.

Most of us worked for the Post Office, either in Calabasas, or Woodland Hills, which is how we became friends, and we held many unforgettable postal gatherings up at the ranch---far from the rat-race---where people could relax and let their hair down without bothering the neighbors, because there weren't any.

At these large pot-luck get-togethers there was often live music provided by musician friends---from young rockers, to aging big band era players---the majority of whom were working at the Post Office too. The family also---long before my days there---had rigged up a fenced (with chicken wire), night-lighted (with salvaged flourescent fixtures), volleyball court, Ma & Pa Kettle style, where, old & young alike, would often play into the wee hours of the morning.

On more normal quieter nights, the family always gathered in the living room of the original old home-built house where four generations of Smiths would gregariously indulge themselves in hours of playing Scrabble, Monopoly, or any number of board, dice, or card games, until way into the night, and there was also a game room with a pool table off the living room overlooking the vegetable garden.

I loved sitting in on those games and listening to family tales about things like hiking miles to the old Calabasas School on a trail which led from the ranch, over the mountains, and down to the quaint little town of Calabasas. But, I don't believe I ever once beat my ol' buddy, Ed Smith, or his sister, Karen, at a game of Scrabble. Those two were just too damned sharp, but then again, they played the game almost every night for much of their lives.

That's the kind of thing families used to do when they lived in remote rural areas, far from the nearest neighbor, before cable or satellite TV, or computers.

I was absolutely charmed by this unassuming family of self-reliant old-fashioned folks who still lived---even during the 1970s, '80s, & early '90s---much as they had throughout the 1940s & '50s. I felt like I had come home, and I still think of them as family, and their 'R-Own-Ranch' as the country home I always longed for.

During our few years there most of the activity centered around the main house, which apparently came into existence around 1927---long before there were enforced building codes in those unincorporated areas---with several rooms obviously added on, maybe as late as the early 1950s. Also, of course, was the war surplus quonset where Peggy & I lived---which had been erected in 1956---35 years before the city of Calabasas was incorporated. And there were a couple of small trailers there too, available to family members who sometimes came and went depending upon their situations at any given time.

Living at the ranch was always an adventure, and definitely not for the faint of heart. The day we moved in was during the midst of a wet winter, and the private road leading up to the ranch had just washed out about a 1/2 mile down from the house, so Peggy and I had to trudge back & forth up that last muddy 1/2 mile with all of our belongings. That would've been late 1979, the year I bought my first 4-wheel drive Toyota, for obvious reasons.

The Smiths owned a tiny, ancient, rickety Caterpillar bulldozer which could, periodically, be patched into some semblance of working order to assist with road repair during washouts, which came in handy because the 1.2 mile dirt section of the road was almost completely wiped out twice during our 3 year stay at the ranch. Those are rewarding and memorable experiences in my life, working side by side with the Smiths to rebuild their road, and this is also when Peggy learned how to use a chain saw and I got to know her rugged hard-working side.

Then there were the fires. A couple of years before we moved to Big Bear a fire broke out to the north of us in the middle of the night, near highway 101, and we were awakened by a call from the fire department warning us to be prepared because it was moving in our direction.

There was a fire hydrant on the property near the main house---the cost of which was surely added to the R-Own-Ranch tax assessment, but the fire department would no longer allow their equipment up the narrow road to protect just one old house. They did however offer to provide us with some fire hose, a nozzle, and a bit of safety instruction if we wished to defend the place ourselves, an offer we gladly accepted.

Over that tense ensuing day the fire moved slowly toward us and some of the Smiths decided to drive down and talk with the firefighters stationed by the big fancy houses at the lower paved section of the road near Mulholland Drive, to see if they might change their minds about sending a truck up. What happened instead, was that a sheriff wouldn't allow the guys back up the road, which left me and Peggy, along with Thelma Smith, probably in her late 50s then, and her son Clark, in his early to mid teens, to defend the place.

I suggested to Peggy that she should leave and told her I was going to stay and fight the fire. She said, "I'm not going anywhere without you"! So, Peg and I followed the fire department advice, wrapping our heads & faces in wet towels as the fire advanced over the hill and moved in upon us. We kept the house and everything around it soaking wet, and when the smoke got too thick we'd adjust the nozzle to a fine spray over our heads and breathe, through the wet towels, the oxygen that was emanating from the misting spray of water falling around us. A few times I had to leave Peggy in charge of the hefty fire nozzle so I could run back to the quonset and use the garden hose to extinguish small fires that had ignited in knot-holes of the leafless deciduous 'Trees of Heaven' growing along the side of the metal building, which was otherwise rather impervious to fire. That's when I discovered how strong and courageous Peggy is.

The fire burned around us for a couple of hours but eventually moved on and the Smith homestead was spared for the time being. Then, in March of 1983, just a few days before Peggy & I moved away, another fire headed toward the ranch, and we were prepared to man the hoses again, but the previous fire had cleared most of the underbrush so this one just burned on past us.

Sadly, in 1996, a third fire finally burned the original family home to the ground while the Smiths stood by helplessly at the bottom of the road where the police, once again, wouldn't allow them up to defend their uninsurable property.

The quonset hut and trailers survived though, and members of the family, including Thelma's now 70 year-old brother, Lloyd Smith, and his son Gary, continued living on what was left of their scrappy beloved ranch, until, completely unannounced and unexpected, "on July 8th, 2010, the Calabasas Community Development Department, its building officials, code enforcement officers, other employees, personnel and agents, Los Angeles County Animal Control, and armed Sheriff’s deputies — a total of 14 people, eight of whom still remain unidentified despite requests for the City to identify them — descended en masse on one of Cold Creek’s founding families in the heart of undeveloped upper Stokes Canyon, 1.2 miles off the beaten track"*.

*Excerpted from the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation August, 2010 newsletter. Read the whole creepy story about the raid here.

In more decent times and places, in an America once striving toward democracy, these human beings---long-time historic pioneering residents of their community---would've been treated with a modicum of courtesy and respect, instead of like common criminals. Their old non code-compliant homestead would've been considered grandfathered, and partially exempt from today's strict regulations, and they would've been officially notified as to whatever health & safety issues required immediate attention and given some time to come into compliance.

But no, 11 days after the raid the Smith family's electricity was cut off, and 7 days after that the water too, leaving 70 year-old Lloyd, and his son Gary, homeless. The bastards even came and capped off the fire hydrant!!!

Because, as you can plainly see, the Calabasas of today is a miracle of modern Capitalism, where destructive profiteering defines progress, and appallingly ugly subdivisions of enormous disgusting "mansions" are smeared all over the once lovely hillsides that the Smith kids wandered on their way to school.

There's no room in Calabasas any more for down home folks like the Smith family, or in the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains for that matter, it's all gone to shit now! And the robber barons who run the world these days don't even have the decency to come in and make the family a fair offer for their land. They just send in a bunch of lackey bureaucrats to do a little dirty work, raiding, condemning, and evicting elderly life-long residents, probably figuring they'll be able to get what they want for almost nothing, while these people are suffering under duress. And I sorely suspect they may well succeed, because ordinary folks just don't have the resources it takes to fight powerful monied interests.

Interestingly, this raid was conducted around the same time an out-of-state owner of 300 acres somewhere in the vicinity of the Smith property, was inquiring about having his land incorporated into the city of Calabasas for development purposes, and would it surprise anybody if the Smith acreage just happens to lie between his land and the rest of what is already contiguous to Calabasas?

Whether this turns out to be the case or not, you can bet your ass that somebody's got an eye on making big bucks off the corpse of R-Own-Ranch, where generations of Smiths, through their labors of love, toiled away for 60 some years on their remote little plot of paradise, enlarging their home, one room at a time, planting gardens, building ponds, repairing roads, paying taxes, and raising their kids, all by themselves, without the need for pre-schools, playdates, or ritalin.

As for the people who live in all those sterile new giant Calabastard enclaves---those anti-coyote, anti-clothesline, anti-cesspool civilized newcomers whose filth & excrement flows through a nasty maze of pipes to some oft malfunctioning sewage treatment plant before being dumped into the Santa Monica Bay; whose countless Hummers, Escalades, and Navigators foul the air above the sacred mountains I once called home---I feel sorry for you and can't even imagine living in one of those oversized crapboxes and calling it a home.

In my eyes R-Own-Ranch is a victim of the same corporate driven oppression which has subverted democracy all across America by buying off the government, rewriting the rules to benefit the rich, and redistributing the wealth of a once thriving middle class---who were the backbone of the country---to a small percentage of the population, which is why the gap between the rich & poor is wider today than ever before, and growing by the hour. Pure raw evidence of the class wars the entire world is in the midst of.

And, for the record, these are my own opinions, and neither my thoughts nor my memories were verified, approved, or authorized by any member of the Smith family.

My anger and indignation over human beings subjected to this kind of treatment is my own, and I'll speak my mind about it anytime I damned well please, especially when it hits this close to home.

Finally, to all the members of the Smith family; to Ed & Cindy, Karen & Dan, and all your kids; to Thelma, Lloyd, & Gary, and all the rest of you. Peggy and I hope you will find a way to get 'R-Own-Ranch' untangled from this nightmare. We will always feel like a part of your family and this is very painful for us too.

Edgar Smith in 1980Click to enlarge - © 1980/2010 jim otterstrom

The late, Edgar Smith, patriarch of R-Own-Ranch who bought the place in the 1940s.

'Smitty' in 1980Click to enlarge - © 1980/2010 jim otterstrom

The, late, 'Smitty', son-in-law of Edgar, husband to Thelma, was the sole rural letter carrier for Calabasas, delivering the mail to every residence for several decades.


Peggy in October of 1981 Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom

A very pregnant Peggy, with our goat, in front of the R-Own-Ranch vegetable garden in October of '81.



Peggy on Friday, November 13th, 1981 Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom

Peggy, in front of the quonset with Smith family dog, Chewbacca, about 16 hours before our son Jimmy was born, and check out the cat on the tin roof above the door.


Quonset Bathroom - 1981Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom

The quonset bathroom during a facelift I was doing on the place while we lived there.


Remodeling Our Bedroom - 1981
Click on photo to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom

Ed Smith, grandson of Edgar, son of Smitty & Thelma, helps me (in the middle) with the drywall in our bedroom while, Debra Smith, looks on from the doorway to the bathroom.



Peggy - 1981 Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom

Peggy, just days away from motherhood, poses for me in our newly remodeled bedroom in the quonset hut at R-Own-Ranch.

Postscript

If you think this post simply describes an unfortunate isolated incident please follow this link to see a short audio slideshow about ex-Marine & Viet Nam vet, Joseph Diliberti, a stunningly creative human being who may lose his 4 acre property in San Diego County, as well as his magnificent hand-crafted ceramic home, under somewhat similar circumstances.

This kind of stuff happens every day, to good people all around the world, who are victimized by the thievery of empire builders who are now beginning to run out of resources to steal; and by classism, elitism, racism, and sexism.

If you lived along the Yangtze River in China, they came and took millions of your ancestral homes for a huge dam to power the industrialists factories, an engineering monstrosity which, at best, will silt over in a dozen decades or so. If you live in Tennessee, they may soon come for the coal under your feet---if they haven't already done so---removing the mountian tops around your home, destroying the landscape and displacing the wildlife who live there, while ruining the watershed and poisoning your water and your air. If you live in Sumatra, and survive a tsunami, they will come and confiscate your land, replacing your fishing villages with luxury resorts. If you live in Central America, they will come and confiscate your homeland for banana or coffee plantations and put you to work in sweatshops making designer shoes or T-shirts for a few bucks a week. If you were a Native American, they might have brought you gifts, like blankets intentionally infected with smallpox, to kill off your people and take over your land with much less resistance. If you live in Iraq, they will come and destroy your country to procure the oil you're sitting on.

And the list of victimization goes on forever, from East Timor, to the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of America; from the brutality of the British, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, & American empires, to the murderous history of religious fanaticism; from the Crusades, to witch burning in America, and the horrific radical muslim fundamentalism of the Taliban.

I believe, as Dan Quinn wrote in his best-selling novel, Ishmael, that some humans are takers, and some are leavers, and for the past 10,000 years or so, the takers have been winning big, but I think they are running out of time. The planet can't afford them anymore...

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20 Comments:

Blogger Tabor said...

Such a sad story. But I am sure it happens often when someone owns important tracts of land. The rich and powerful can do what they want, when they want.

3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only read a handful of blogs, probably because they all seem so full of "fluff". But not yours. You always make me cry, laugh or think...but whether I laugh or cry I ALWAYS think! I am truely inspired by your writing. Often times though I just feel like I can never no matter how hard I try reach that place where I feel strongly that I need to be. All that to say that I enjoy your writing immensely!! Thank you. Lisa Leisher

8:48 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Tabor-

Yes, and it's especially infuriating when it happens so close to home, to people and a place you care deeply about.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Anonymous Lisa-

Thank you so much for your comment, sometimes I feel like I'm just blowing so much hot air to the wind so it's reassuring to know someone else relates to what I'm feeling.

I'm so glad you enjoy reading the blog, people like you make me want to post more often.

By the way, I added more thoughts to the end of this post since you read it...

11:37 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

You obviously have some wonderful memories of the place and have a reason to feel pain at seeing it end up like this. Well let me tell you, at 2000 miles away or so, without any personal attachment to the place (other than your connection with it), I feel your pain and I think this is totally wrong! Despite it all, I feel optimistic that this rich corporate greed way of life is nearing its end days. I have seen a few articles lately about how the McMansion is maybe near its demise. Give my heartfelt condolences to the Smith family.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, (as I wipe a tear from my cheek) I feel like another strip of decency has been torn from humanity. I hope there will come a day, in my lifetime, that people will slow down and see the effects of their actions. Thank you for sharing...

8:52 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Deb-

Yes, nice memories there and throughout the entire Santa Monica Mountain area in the old days before developers & money moved in.

And I agree with you, I think civilization is on the very brink of big change, and you're still young enough to hopefully see the manifestation of that change and in a better position than most---because of your homestead and skills---to survive the turmoil ahead.

I read that McMansion article too, encouraging...

7:58 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Anonymous-

Is that you Lisa?

There is still much decency in the human species, it's just that the forces of greed have the momentum for time being. But this can't continue forever because the natural systems of the planet cannot sustain it, which is becoming obvious to those paying attention.

But life will continue, and maybe there will still be a place for humans if we learn some humility and self-control, that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, try to enjoy every precious moment you've been given, because there really is magical beauty all around us, even in the midst of all this craziness.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this story with us Jim (I'm a long time, faithful reader (gotta love feed readers) but I don't comment often). I read the Las Virgenes Homeowner's Association's full description of what happened and am so saddened for this family. From what you've shared, they seem like truly wonderful people and good stewards of the earth. It is a shame that it is even possible for something like this to occur. I'm glad the article in the LVHA included a contact email. I'm going to donate some money to help the Smiths (I'm sure their legal fees are going to be pretty high not to mention the costs to do whatever it is the city is requiring of them).

I also read the article, Calabasas Profligacy and the comparison to Agoura Hills. I live in a small town but things here are getting out of hand and it's eerily similar to Calabasas, both in terms of the stupid, selfish monetary-gain based decisions as well as the expenditures on the salaries of unnecessary city employees.

Warmly, Crystal

2:28 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Dear Anonymous Crystal-

Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our friends situation and for your thoughtful generosity in contributing to the fund set up to try and save their property.

I forwarded your message along to the family.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim and Peggy,
I want to comment on this post but words fail me. This is such a sad story, but this is happening all over to good people just like the Smiths. It has GOT to change!!! I have a feeling it will.
Coleen

4:40 PM  
Blogger Urban Wild said...

Sweet Jesus, that is just outrageous! You hear about it all the time but when it happens to someone you know, it becomes a real affront. Our ancestors fought for their land--we may have to start doing it as well. If enough folks resist, it just might work. It seemed to work pretty well in 1776. So I'm curious--what would you do if they came for your land?

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Hi Jim,
I stumbled upon your blog quite randomly and grateful to have connected with a kindred spirit a little further down the path. My hubby and I have 2 small children, born in Humboldt County and we had lived for a time on an old grandfathered farm/commune in Mendocino County. Nothing like this has happened on this farm...it's own by moneyed San Franciscans who have folks like us caretake/farm, but I hear you speaking truth to power!

Our family has recently moved to Japan after my husband returned to a "straight" engineering job. Of course it's an incredible family adventure, to explore another side of the world with the kiddos attending a world-class international school. We try to soak in all we can. Yet we've taken them away from nature and into a world where we have a garbage bag full of plastic trash each WEEK. (I know, I cringe, too.) Each day I ask myself whether the micro-choices are in alignment with our values and we make our choices from there.

I know this is much from a stranger, but I appreciate that you are still THERE while we are visiting this other world (of expat oil executive americans as well as of Japanese)...it helps me make intelligent choices.

I, too, am in love with your mom's ranch and am amazed that she picked up and moved there at 80! Strong stock!

2:16 AM  
Blogger ziki said...

Hi
I read your all story . Its was such a painful story of yours.I pray to God that he give you peace of mind and give a power to handle all this and you can get everything which you want in your life...

Be Happyyyyyyyy

12:46 AM  
Blogger Jo Anne said...

My Dear Brother Jim

You were an awesome Brother, an awesome friend, and one hell of a man. You took life by the horns and rode it for all it's worth, and on the way you spread joy and happiness, wisdom and concepts, you listened to what people had to say, you spoke when they asked you to, you fed, clothed and gave shelter to people in need, because that was the kind of person you were. You were a role model for all to see and respect, you were humble also and had a kindness about you in this violent world that never ceased to amaze me. I looked up to you all my life, and that hasn't changed, you learned a lifetime of things from doing them, not from school, but from life itself, most of us just dont have the courage to live as you lived. I was so happy when you married Peggy, thank you so much for bringing her into our family, and then you even did more, you brought in Jimmy & Jamie, they are loved so much, and a surprise gift later in life was Norene, yet another beautiful child whom I also love and adore. I remember things that happened to you as a young hippie...we went to Hughs market one day to get something for mom, I was pretty excited because we didnt see you very often. we got to hughs and 4 guys stopped us (you) at the door and threatened you if you came in. we left, you just said, dont worry, they are just ignorant and dont know any better...
then in Topanga you took me to a restaurant and 3 guys in there kept calling you names and trying to pick a fight with you..again you just looked at me a smiled and said come'on wel'll eat at my house. I asked why didnt you get mad, you said what good would it do? I didn't know it then, but that took a lot of courage on your part, especially when I was pretty sure you could whip the 3 idiots in the restaurant.
again, he said they are just ignorant, if we fight all of them, then they make everyone see they are right, if we turn the other cheek, someday they will just figure out hey, these are nice people. You had a hide as tough as nails, and kept your heart as good as gold, you never showed animosity to those that would harm you, I cant seem to put into words a life such as yours without thinking it could take years to finish.
I have seen you draw, build, creat things that were just truly incredible!
the baskets you made, made one hell of an impression on me, wow, for a guy to sit and learn and do that was amazing, they were the most beautiful baskets I have ever seen prior to or since they were smooth and soft to the touch,like silk... your photography is second to none, and when did you learn to write as though you were a professional novelist?
You grow vegetables at elevations that some say wont grow, well I guess you proved that to be a misnomer also.
The biggest impression you made on me was your uncanny ability to meet new people everywhere you go, then become friends and stay in touch with your friends all of your life,
I cant imagine how many people you have touched the hearts of, I have read posts from people you never met in person and you had such a profound effect on them they are all sharing in our time of grief.
Then there are some of your friends I have known almost as long as you have..Like Charlie, and Bruce, maybe thats the answer, you have the ability to find good people, I have known Charlie and Bruce longer than any of my own friends, though I think of them as family.
I will miss you big brother, I will miss hearing your voice, and your laugh, that rough looking old beard. I have no doubt in my mind you have made it to the special place you need to be,
I would like to ask you one favor...'
please say hi to Gary for me. I love you Jim, I always have and always will, and thank you for your beautiful family.
Good Bye Big Brother.
Jo Anne

jan. 24.2011 4am

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8:37 AM  
Blogger Bruce Main said...

What a surprise coming across this blog - I knew Ed Smith in the mid seventies and visited the Smith compound occasionally. Even played is some of those volleyball night games! Lots of softball too! Brings back some good memories...

8:38 PM  

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