Rene Ray De La Cruz Staff Writer @DP_ReneDeLaCruz
VICTORVILLE — Though the High Desert has seen steady and at times rapid population growth over the past 30 years, many longtime residents point to the closing of George Air Force Base in 1992 as the pivotal moment in the region's history.
“When the base closed in the early ‘90s, thousands of people were unplugged from churches, schools, businesses, neighborhoods and community groups,” said Joe Manners, 71, a native of Oro Grande and now the community's unofficial mayor. “That’s when we lost our economic footing, our pride as a community and our identity.”
Manners said the base closure caused the cultural and economic earthquake that shook the High Desert to its core.
He and others said the region never fully recovered. They believe the vacuum created by the closure — along with the growing liberal influence from Sacramento, higher taxes, fewer well-paying jobs and affordable housing — created a fertile ground in the High Desert for crime, more traffic, unsafe neighborhoods and droves of residents wanting to escape.
The region began “deteriorating” when it lost its “soul and identity” after longtime residents began moving away and were replaced by “strangers.” That’s the opinion of many residents who either moved or want to relocate.
Retired insurance agent Jack Archer, 72, who moved to Glendale, Arizona in 2007, said the High Desert has been trying to find its purpose and identity since the base closed.
“Every time I drive back to visit family, I notice more homeless people, graffiti, trash and buildings in disrepair,” said Archer, who lived in the High Desert for over 30 years. “I moved for family reasons, but after seeing what the High Desert has become, I’m glad I moved when I did.”
After living in Apple Valley since the mid-’60s, Holly Noel and her husband moved to Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin, where they now enjoy local theater, music events, dining and “the feeling of safety.”
A retired air quality specialist for the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, Noel said many factors have changed the culture and economics of the High Desert, with a return to “old school” values and economics “highly unlikely.”
The High Desert’s “dysfunctionality” and people desiring to relocate stems mainly from “a lack of community” caused by the 82,000 High Desert commuters who make daily trips down the hill, Noel said.
“Most people in the High Desert drive up and down the hill, park their cars in the garage, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep and start the cycle all over again,” Noel said. “When you’re always gone, there’s no chance of building community or a sense a camaraderie. From a sociological point of view, this is how many problems begin.”
The high cost of living in California and lack of jobs in the High Desert are two other factors causing people to flee, said Noel, who revealed that “now hiring” signs are plentiful in her area and 30 percent of her yoga class includes former residents from Southern California.
“Wages are lower here across the board, whether people are working at Dairy Queen or in a profession,” Noel said. “But the cost of living is also lower, so your dollar is going to go a lot further.”
Noel said she was shocked when she paid $18.50 for a smog check for her 2010 Mercedes Benz, plus the annual vehicle registration of $76 and a one time fee of $90.
Noel admits, “Texas is not perfect,” but also remarked that she hasn’t seen any graffiti or news outlets reporting daily occurrences of “murders, shootings, vandalism, robbery or theft.”
“You’ll never walk into a Kohl’s in the High Desert and finding a kind employee asking if you need help,” Noel said. “But you’ll find that everywhere in Texas because that sort of gentility has been handed down from generation to generation.”
An Apple Valley native who worked in the construction trade most of his life, Ernie Rodriguez said the High Desert began turning into a “hell hole” soon after George Air Force Base closed.
“Back when I was 40 years old, I planned to retire in the High Desert,” said Rodriguez, 68, who moved to Scottsdale, Arizona two years ago. “I decided to move out of Victorville after my house kept getting tagged, my windshield was busted and I couldn’t get out of the car without transients asking for money.”
Rodriguez believes the High Desert “lost its sense of identity and pride” when “waves of military families” left the area.
“Back in the day, everybody knew everybody. Now, nobody knows each other because people keep moving away,” said Rodriguez, who believes the High Desert “won’t improve” because people are “too self-absorbed in their own lives,” or “just trying to survive day-by-day” to even try to make a difference.
Rodriguez said many people in the area are leaving the state because of the “one-two punch” by the High Desert and California, which includes “business and economic” shots to the body and “liberal shenanigans” across the state.
Several residents pointed to various reports, including the state’s Department of Finance, which ranked California’s economy the sixth largest in the world, but the fifth worst state in the nation in overall tax burden, according to the Tax Foundation. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council also ranked California as having the worst anti-business climate in the country.
Many former residents said despite its flaws, they miss the High Desert, with its beautiful sunsets, horse trails, open spaces, affordable housing, opportunities for off-road adventures, and its proximity to the mountains, beaches, Southern California attractions and Las Vegas.
Businesswoman Amy Reyes, who moved from Victorville to Escondido with her husband and two children last year, said about “70 percent” of her heart still yearns for life in the High Desert.
“We moved from the San Gabriel Valley to the High Desert about 16 years ago and we loved it there,” Reyes said. “People need to understand that there’s crime everywhere but I think the positives of living in the High Desert outweigh the negative.”
Reyes said a couple of “huge negatives” for living in Escondido is paying double the monthly mortgage and triple the property tax on a 2,000-square- foot home with no backyard and no driveway in San Diego County.
“Our house in Eagle Ranch had a huge backyard and it cost us about $1,800 month,” said Reyes, whose husband’s job with the California Highway Patrol prompted the family’s move south. “Most people in the High Desert have spending money to play with because their homes don’t eat up all their income.”
Since moving, Reyes said her daughters have missed their friends; she misses “less traffic congestion” and the “cool crisp air” of the High Desert.
Building designer and contractor Robert Larivee, who moved his family to Northern California in 2016 because of business and “God’s leading,” said there’s “hope and opportunity” for the High Desert if people would “come to together and fight” for their community.
“In the years that I lived in the High Desert, we saw a tremendous amount of growth in the retail, restaurant and housing sectors,” said Larivee, 53, who lives in Eagle Lake with his wife Kimberly and their three youngest children. “If people would simply unite and take a stand for the High Desert, the area wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in now.”
Larivee, who made a run for seats in the U.S. Senate, Victorville Council and California Assembly over the last few years, held multiple summits with pastors, nonprofit leaders, citizens and government representatives in order to address the homeless situation in the Victor Valley.
Larivee praised former Victorville City Manager Doug Robertson and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Cox for their work helping to provide Community Block Development Grants for a variety of social services, including the homeless.
“I think things started heading south for Victorville when Ryan McEachron was not re-elected to the City Council,” Larivee said. “It’ll take a solid city Council, the county, and a group of nonprofits, churches and regular citizens to make the High Desert great again.”
Next week, the Daily Press speaks with those who have recently moved to the High Desert.
Reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, [email protected], Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz and Instagram @reneraydelacruz
Source : http://www.vvdailypress.com/news/20180210/region-still-reeling-many-say-closure-of-george-air-force-base-caused-cultural-economic-earthquake