Optimism about the future of the Mountain Communities is strong

  • Clockwise, from top: Jill Egland (United Way, standing), Jo O’Meara, Anne Weber Burnaugh, Marie Smith, Linda Robredo and (not shown) Patric Hedlund in roundtable talk. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

    Clockwise, from top: Jill Egland (United Way, standing), Jo O’Meara, Anne Weber Burnaugh, Marie Smith, Linda Robredo and (not shown) Patric Hedlund in roundtable talk. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

United Way Roundtable focuses on economy and families 

If you had grabbed a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies, then settled into a comfy chair to take part in the United Way roundtable conversation at the Frazier Park Library December 10, you would have heard glowing visions for the future of this community, along with some stubborn concerns.

The Mountain Communities are a good place to raise children, Jill Egland of United Way and her friend Jo O’Meara were told. Anne Weber Burnaugh, Linda Robredo, Marie Smith and Patric Hedlund talked of the benefits of a small-town atmosphere where everyone knows your name and the only gangs you’ll see are on TV or in state news, not in our neighborhoods. They spoke of a Mountain Community rich with talented people and generous hearts, where the vital institutions run on volunteer power.

The attractions of the surrounding national forest and steady progress in rebuilding the school district are appreciated.

A trend of the region’s youth wanting to return here to raise their own children led to urgent discussion about how to develop solid local jobs that pay a good wage. It was agreed that a dependable high-speed, electronic communication infrastructure could attract people to bring their own internet-based businesses here.

There is a perception that the California Public Utilities Commission has not required AT&T, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric to maintain their transmission lines in this region. Electrical spikes blow out equipment in Lebec and Frazier Park. Burnaugh said she lost five surge protectors in one day. Telephone lines often stop working in Pine Mountain when it snows. Cell service does not yet exist in Lake of the Woods. It is intermittent in Piñon Pines and Cuddy Valley. A Verizon cell service will begin in the Pine Mountain community in January but coverage is uncertain. Western Antelope Valley’s cell coverage is spotty and internet is undependable. The need to build alliances with other communities in the state was discussed. All agreed they want to see the utility lines buried along Mt. Pinos Way in Frazier Park, so the natural beauty of the area is  visible.

Developing a “green energy” industry here was proposed by Robredo. The value of the community uniting to market ecotourism packages of seasonal festivals and mountain recreation was posed. Hedlund mentioned the $28,455 won in Kern County Board of Trade tourism grants this year. The value of embracing the approved Tejon Ranch projects as part of the community led Robredo to say, “You can’t pay a mortgage on minimum wage, and most of those are minimum wage jobs.”

Burnaugh expressed appreciation for the area’s innovative entrepreneurs who are creating assets such as In the Wings Dance Studio and The Name Your Price Thrift Store.

Perhaps surprisingly, many people here say they like the dirt roads on most residential streets in Frazier Park and Cuddy Valley. “They keep cars from speeding,” Burnaugh and Smith said, allowing them to let their children run and play outside without worry.

Robredo said there is still a strong sense of “us and them” between the hamlets that make up the Mountain Communities. Yet the water crisis brought on by the drought has, for the first time in this unincorporated area, led to talk of regional cooperation to find and develop water sources. Smith said she wants to see all the region’s schools work together with the public library to develop enrichment programs to serve the community. The need for better health care access is of concern to all.

The United Way roundtable is an experiment being conducted throughout the county.

“We want to take a snapshot to see what a community’s aspirations are for itself,” Egland explained. “What kind of community do you want?” she asked.

The quick and unanimous reply: a community just like this one, but with solid jobs and a clear vision for where it is going.

Join the roundtable. Write Editor@Mountain Enterprise.com, subject line: Roundtable.

This is part of the December 27, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.