by Ray Pugel
This weekend, a friend visited me from the city of Needles, Calif., which is located on the Colorado River.
We served together on the Needles City Council from 1988 to 1992. We were elected on a pro-progress platform in an attempt to stimulate growth and development because, while the nearby towns of Lake Havasu and Bullhead City were growing and thriving, Needles was systematically falling apart.
Prior to our election, many opportunities were presented to the Needles area, including the opportunity to have the regional airport for the Laughlin-Bullhead City area. At that time, the city fathers declined all opportunities for progress. The sentiment of the community was that it did not want anyone using their river.
We moved to Needles in 1985. At that time there was a bowling alley and a movie theater. A senior center was located in the downtown area. Foxworth-Galbraith had a lumber yard near the railroad tracks, and the townspeople played with their boats on the Colorado River.
Today the bowling alley is closed. The movie theater was gutted by fire and is still a shell in the heart of town. The senior center sits vacant with its windows potholed by stones. The nearest lumber yard is in Arizona.
Burger King is closed. The downtown area is vacant. Many gasoline stations have closed leaving their ugly vacant shells. The town's infrastructure is failing. Home prices have fallen by as much as 30 percent to 40 percent. The shopping centers sit 50-percent empty. The medical center is for sale. The population is declining.
But there was some progress. The newest building in town is the California Welfare Office with a bright red tile roof.
Lake Havasu and Bullhead City thrive while Needles slowly whittles away. My friend tells me that there is an excellent chance that within two years or less, Needles will unincorporate and be taken over by San Bernardino County. Ultimately, even the municipal employees' jobs could fade away.
Why this letter about Needles? Because the similarities between Payson and Needles are frightening. You either move up or move down, but it doesn't stay the same. Progress had deteriorated to such a low in Needles that as a city council, to stimulate development, we voted to sell 50 acres of once valuable city land to a developer at $100 an acre for new housing. The homes were priced at $80,000 to $95,000, and a number of homes sold, but the project never built out.
Not enough sales.
In the downtown area we implemented a commercial rejuvenation project with the government picking up part of the costs to restore the facades of the deteriorated commercial buildings. Good intentions, but it didn't work. Simple economics. The town was already too far gone and the businesses could not afford even half the cost of restoring their buildings.
My wife and I have lived in a nonprogressive area and it ain't pretty. My friend will be closing his insurance business within the next six months. He hopes he can sell his home without too big a loss.
It seems like deja vu. On election day, when you decide who you are going to vote for, remember, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.