The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Jackson County 1965

Move to Valley Is Like Arriving in New World

Mail Tribune Staff Writer

    The dam hasn't broken, not yet, but the people are spilling over the top gasping for clean air, pure water and most of all--space.
    These people are disenchanted Southern Californians, and they are flowing into Oregon through the Rogue River Valley. Many of them are going no farther.
    "It is like coming into another world," explained George F. Sharpe, retired medical officer from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
    "Here is peaceful living away from the snarl of too much traffic, the smoke of too much industry, the crush of too many people. This is paradise for the fisherman, the hunter. Here we have found the friendliness of neighbors, people who care. This is everything we had dreamed of."
"Stream Is Accelerating"
    Those who are in a position to deal with newcomers have noted that the "stream is accelerating."
    "They all seem to be looking for a better way of life," a local banker said.
    "Many of them are retired, but an increasing proportion want to make a living here. They are the young and the middle-aged, looking for jobs and business opportunities."
    For the retired there are relatively few problems. They find a home place they like, enter into community life and are happy.
    But for those who hope to make a living, the story on job opportunities is sometimes contradictory.
Finding it Rough
    "There are openings for tradespeople, like journeyman carpenters, electricians and plumbers," Lloyd Colfax, placement interviewer for the State Employment Service, Medford, said, "but some of our newcomers are finding it rough to get established.
    "I would say 75 percent of them are looking for jobs. Stop by the office the first of any week and you will see 15 to 20 California cars parked out in front.
    "Those who are ambitious, willing to take most any job to get started, can usually find opportunities to start at the bottom and to move up. Our lumber industry is expanding and if Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (White City) develops the way it is expected to, there will be tremendous opportunity.
    "Medford is a natural as a distribution center, and there are going to be more and more job opportunities here in wholesale outlets and warehouses."
Not Developed Yet
    But all of these things have not developed yet, and there are those who don't want to wait until they do.
    "Some who can't afford to come here yet are buying property and holding it," a realtor said. "I had a California school teacher in recently. He said he would lose his retirement if he brought his family here now, but he wants to buy a place and hold it until he retires. Another one said retirement or no, he was going back to California, sell out and come now.
    "He was like so many of them, he wanted a little acreage with a stream and trees. He hopes to partially support his family by farming."
    Dr. Clifford B. Cordy, Jackson County extension agent, is concerned about those who want to farm for a living, or for supplemental income--and there are a lot of them locating in this land of many fingerling valleys.
Dream of Farm Life
    "Those people have nostalgic dreams of farm life," he said, "but no conception of modern-day farming problems.
    "They buy five acres and put horses, cows, sheep and pigs on it, or they want to plant a crop. They don't realize the cost of equipment. They know nothing of intensive farming, management.
    "One man wanted to buy an acreage, plant pear trees, return to his job in the Los Angeles area and come back here in five years to a producing orchard--and an income.
    "So many fail to realize that farming today is a highly technical and scientific process and that farmers are competing with a world market, not the local market of yesteryear."
A Cross-Section
    George Brenner, county planning consultant, described the newcomers from Southern California as a "cross-section of people."
    "Some feel this country is a thing of beauty and should be kept that way," he said. "There are a few, however, who are coming here because this area is big, ripe and easy.
    "Our building and zoning codes are lax. Anybody who wants to can go into the building business. Subdivisions are making rich men out of those who were once described as 'land poor.'"
    Brenner also discussed those who are being squeezed out of California agricultural lands by suburbanization.
    "This is where tax structure enters the picture," he said. "These people are faced with reinvesting their money or letting Uncle Sam take a big bite out of the profit they made. They feel investment in land here is a good deal--an investment that will make them good money in the future."
    And those newcomers looking for the chance to turn a dollar aren't alone.
Conflict Crops Up
    The old conflict of esthetics vs. money is cropping up more and more among the long-time resident sand business people: an orchard is subdivided, a farm sold off in lots, roads are cut to an oak-studded hilltop, too many houses are built on the land, the lawn of a gracious old home is torn out, the land sold for a roadside business.
    Property values are changing.
    "When someone tells me he thinks he has paid too much for a piece of property, I just tell him he must have paid the California price," an investment counselor said. "Naturally adjustments are being made so that the first sale is not too far below what the second and third will be. We have seen the same tract of land sell three times in a relatively short period of time, each time with rapidly ascending prices."
Cultural Opportunities
    Cultural opportunities and the availability of entertainment may be limited in the Rogue Valley, but those who are spilling over the dam seem to feel the esthetic values and the livability of this area offset its disadvantages.
    "Those who can are getting out the metropolitan areas," a retired electrician said. "Here we can wake up in the morning and see the sun and the hills instead of smog and smokestacks. There aren't so many people. There isn't so much crime. In southern California the Negro situation is getting intolerable, taxes are high, the cost of living is exorbitant."
    And so they continue to come: the educator who takes a big cut in salary to rear his children where they can gather wildflowers in the meadows, the former equipment dealer, the retired designer, the retired Navy lieutenant, the retired editor, the displaced citrus grower, the businessman, the nurseryman, the minister who wanted a chance to "work more closely with people," the welder, the professional singer, the writer, the artist, the gunsmith.
Pleased with Life
    The list is long. These people are, almost without exception, pleased with the simplicity of life, the slower pace they have found.
    But how long can this last?
    This is the question--the problem--that faces those responsible for planning for the future of Southern Oregon, those who can wonder just how long the dam can hold.
Medford Mail Tribune, October 10, 1965, page B3

Questions for the Future
    Every once in a while, it does a community good to sit back and look at itself, where it has been, what it needs, where it is going.
    Up in Eugene the other day, Fred Brenne, who as Chamber of Commerce executive is a sort of one-man civic conscience, sat down to prepare a list of what the Eugene Register-Guard called a checklist of unfinished public business. In a few minutes he came up with 34 things that need civic attention, either immediately or to prepare for the future.
    It is a game anyone can play, and, as the Guard noted, every citizen who is concerned over the well-being of his community should do it once in a while.
    Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts we have been mulling over as to what Medford in particular, and Jackson County in general, need, either soon or within the foreseeable future, if it is to remain as fine a place to live as we who have come to love it would wish.
    -- A revitalized downtown area for Medford. Plans for such a project are nearing completion, and will be revealed this week. While the primary burden would be carried by the downtown merchants and property owners themselves (as well as the primary benefits), such a departure will directly affect the convenience, economic opportunity and general well-being of every citizen of southern Oregon.
    -- Completion of the study of traffic needs on the floor of the valley, to be followed by rapid and efficient putting [of] the resulting plans into effect.
    -- Effectuation of Medford's park program, with particular emphasis on the Bear Creek portions of it.
    -- Pollution controls, both air and water. This involves more than the sanitary facility complex project now under discussion. It involves all sources of pollution of air and water, and means to cope with them.
    -- A civic auditorium, designed to serve the largest number of people, and the widest range of functions.
    -- Are public services adequate to the needs of the community? Police? Fire? Mental health (including work with alcoholics)? Public health?
    -- Has adequate attention been paid to sources of help from the federal government in solving metropolitan and urban-rural problems?
    -- Are we set up to seek out the "pockets of poverty" in our midst, and to mount a Community Action Program designed to help eradicate them?
    -- Is the little ballpark at the fairgrounds adequate to the community's need, or should more thought and effort go into the creation of a true multi-purpose stadium?
    -- What use should be made of the land on which the old and soon-to-be-gone county shops are located? Should it be made an attractive, park-like entryway into the city?
    -- Can Jacksonville afford to take advantage of the magnificent opportunity afforded by the restoration program? If not, cannot other sections of the county, which would benefit at least equally, help out?
    -- What can be done about the mounting number of car bodies which, almost daily, are being dumped into Bear Creek, or piled in unsightly and unsanitary piles within public view?
    -- Is anything EVER going to be done about Prescott Park, which holds the potentiality of being one of the nation's outstanding municipal parks?
    -- How about overhead utility poles--both power and telephone--which are unsightly and sometimes dangerous? Should steps be taken to stimulate or require the utility companies to put them underground?
    This is only a sampling of many unanswered questions. Some of them are being actively worked on; others are just there, waiting for solution--or no solution.
    There has been some talk that a new public library is needed. Eventually, one will be; no building lasts forever. But on any list of realistic priorities this is way at the bottom, far below any of those mentioned above.
    That the citizens of the community, when given the facts and shown the necessities, will react favorably, has been shown time and time again. Most recently such action was when the Ashland School District voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue for school construction and improvements. Similar examples are Medford School District voters approving a new high school, and city voters approving a new city hall.
    Others may have their own projects to add to those listed offhandedly above. But it appears to us that each and all of these merit attention.
    The objective, of course, is that Jackson County remain (or, as some would say, return to being) a clean, pleasant, convenient environment, with adequate public facilities for the good life, for public safety, for human dignity and welfare, with the amenities no 20th Century community should be without.
    All this will require enlightened, aggressive and persuasive leadership, a well-informed and cooperative citizenry, and a willingness to invest in the future of the community. The biggest question of all is whether these will be forthcoming.
-- E. A.       
Medford Mail Tribune, November 15, 1965, page 4

Last revised July 6, 2014