I’m always on the lookout for anything abandoned. Even when I find something, though, it’s often not accessible, guarded by a high fence topped with barbed wire with NO TRESPASSING sign posted every five feet.
Last Thursday, on my way to a new (for me) elementary school to teach chess to 14 aspiring world champions, I came across not one, not two, not even three, but many abandoned homes, buildings, and what were obviously agricultural structures of some sort.
I was traveling a winding rural highway where the speed limit was 35 mph. Since there is a huge casino at the end of the road in the city of my destination, traffic was heavy and slow. It took me another mile before I found a place to make a safe U turn and go back to do a little exploring.
I found an extensive article online, dated December 7, 2000, a date that is relevant to this whole story.
The two office buildings were for two dairy farms, Pete Verboom Dairy Farm No. 1 and Pete Verboom Dairy Farm No. 2. The homes were for his family and employees. The dairy farms were opened in 1966 and closed in 2000. The homes were built from 1966 to 1974, and there are 100 acres of land comprising the two dairy farms.
But why are 14 buildings and 100 acres of land duly abandoned? Who has that kind of money, to just abandon valuable buildings and land in Southern California where real estate is so expensive?
It’s a long story, which I shall endeavour (the U is for my Canadian and Australian friends) to make short.
First, I guess we have to discuss the dairy industry, or any industry that involves animals and such which produce manure, flies, odors, etc. In the olden days of 1966, there wasn’t too much in this area. Now, with the Pala Casino and Resort, which opened on April 3, 2001, the area is quite popular. Note that if this huge casino and resort opened in April 2001, there’s a high probability that construction started in 2000, the year the dairy farms closed. There IS a connection.
During the 34 years that the Verboom dairy farms were in operation, more than 100 dairies ceased operations in San Diego County. With the construction of the casino and resort, CalTrans obtained an easement through the dairy farms to straighten and expand the winding, two-lane rural highway from I-15 to the casino. The homes and buildings were built close to the road, so an easement to straighten and expand the road probably would have meant tearing down all of the buildings.
Pete and his wife, Lani, raised four children on the property. The children were interested in remaining in the dairy industry, but their location was not conducive to doing that, and San Diego County itself was not friendly to the dairy industry; the last dairy that opened in the County was in 1971.
Verboom closed the two dairy farms and bought five hundred acres in Orland, California, about one hundred miles north of Sacramento where agriculture and farming is a way of life. The dairy farm in Orland opened in 2001, and that’s where Verboom lives, with his children close by and working the dairy.
Verboom’s dairy farms ran afoul of the San Luis Rey River Habitat Formation Committee, created to develop and preserve habitat for the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo (picture ►). The vireos live in willows along the river, and during drought years (common in Southern California), Verboom was prohibited from pumping extra water out of the ground lest the willows die back, which would also cause a dieback of the vireos.
The Brown-headed Cowbird (picture ►) also presented a problem. The name “cowbird” pretty much tells you that they like to be near cows where they eat lots of bugs and flies which are part and parcel of a dairy farm. Cowbirds, though, are thieves and invaders, laying their eggs in the same nest as the vireo. The cowbird chicks are bigger, so the vireo chicks die off from lack of food, as well as a problem called “blood parasitism.”
The Highway 76 corridor also played a major factor in closing the dairies. There are 19 Indian tribes located in San Diego County, more than any other county in the nation. Eight of them have casinos, and four of them are located along the Highway 76 corridor. I-15 is the main feeder to Highway 76 and those casinos. The dairy farms are on Highway 76 just a couple of miles from I-15.
Traffic is a nightmare because the winding two-lane road has never been straightened or expanded. So much for planning, and possibly a good case study for traffic in other areas that are trying to building Indian gaming casinos and resorts. Plans don’t always come to fruition!
Verboom was fortunate to sell the land before he moved. So if he sold it, why is it vacant and abandoned? Who would buy land in Southern California and just abandon it?
Ah, it gets more interesting, involving the Gregory Canyon Landfill.
Back in 1986, the County began looking for a North County site for a new landfill that would be able to accept one million tons of solid waste each year for thirty years. The Gregory Canyon site was not on the official 1986 list of possibilities; it was added in 1988. Without getting into the pros and cons of the Gregory Canyon site—and there are many!—suffice it to note that the Gregory Canyon Landfill still has not been built, although there still are plans to do so. And therein lies the reason why the property remains vacant and abandoned.
According to the 2000 article that I used as the basis for this post, Gregory Canyon Ltd bought the dairy farms to provide a natural buffer around the landfill; by the time of the sale, the land already had been rezoned for open space. Gregory Canyon Ltd. paid $5,000 per acre for the land and threw in additional compensation for the facilities—the milking barns, houses, etc. Land in Orland cost only $2,500 per acre, providing Verboom with a nice profit and many fewer worries and headaches.
One final paragraph in the article reminded me that there is another abandoned property here, a former chicken ranch that I need to visit again. I used to live just a mile from it while it was operational. It closed in the early 2000s because of complaints of dust, flies, etc.—typical things one would expect to be connected to a chicken ranch—from many in the 1% neighborhoods surrounding the ranch (yes, at one time I really did live in a 1% neighborhood!).
Glenn County, where Orland is, has an ordinance stating that if you’re outside of the city limits of the cities in Glenn County, then the county, being an agricultural county, does not consider dust, flies, spraying, and other agricultural activities as being a nuisance. It’s part of business. Pro agriculture….