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IF YOU HAD to be evicted in Winter, it was a good day for it. The sky was clear, the sun sparkled on the water, and rain was not predicted for a few days. Still, the anxiety was almost palpable.
Here a cat was missing, there a child was being scolded for not "getting his stuff together," and further off a man in a knit cap was cursing a dead battery. Three woman and a guy in a bus were drinking beer and talking loud, as though it was a party, but that only masked the anxiouness of the situation. Underneath, they looked like animals being rounded up for slaughter.
The scene? Navarro Beach almost a year ago. It was D-Day for the "squatters" there. State Parks rangers had moved in along with the county sheriff, and by afternoon all would be off the beach. An era would end, and a tradition of free camping at the site would be over. Politics and posturing--on all sides--would cease as old campers and trailers drove or were towed out the long entrance along the Navarro River to the broad, sandy beach.
A year later, some have found homes, some haven't. "Spider" is still looking; so is Carl, the Indian who lived in the teepee south of the camp.
BUT JEFF, a pale six-year-old with reddish hair and clownish ways, has found trailer space with his mom, Jamie, at the Pt. Cabrillo Campground. It is neat and clean at Pt. Cabrillo. There are showers; there are other "facilities." But Jeff says he preferred Navarro Beach.
"There was a lot more space to play," he says, "and I could ride my bike all the way down to the road." He misses a friend named Thunder as well.
But sister Addei, her light brown hair in pig tails that stand out to the side, assess the situation differently. "I like it here because it's sunny," she says, standing on a hill that slopes gently down to the lighthouse on the point. For the moment the sun shines, though the ground is sloshy from all the rain. The lighthouse gleams white on the point.
Although her new surroundings look almost ideal, mother Jamie, holding a large steaming mug of coffee, insists she'd rather be back at Navarro Beach. She says almost no one there wanted to leave. "It was a community," she says with an edge of resentment in her voice. "We shared everything."
Apparently for some people, sharing and caring are stronger values than a hot bath or electricity, neither of which Navarro Beach offered. Nor did it offer much sunglight, located as it was, in a canyon-like opening to the ocean. But as for sunsets, it was spectacular. If the Ganges river in India offers great sunrises at the holy city of Varanasi, as mystics say it does, then the Navarro is its counterpart in the West for sunsets. They are a holy spectacle beyond description.
Jamie says she plans on "putting up" Christmas here, but last year's Christmas may be hard to top. Bill Kreutzman of the Grateful Dead donated $5000 of toys, food, and sleeping bags.
JERRY DELISLE also lives at Pt. Cabrillo. He is 36- years old but looks a little older. He worked in a boatyard in Vallejo for 18 years, he says, until he was disabled due to chemical exposure. He has a new trailer, which he says made it easier to find a campground where they would take him.
There is a hush that sometimes falls over those who experienced the final days of Navarro Beach, a silence that one might expect of a disaster survivor or war veteran. Delisle, a thoughtful man with a gentle manner, states it softly: "It was the experience of a lifetime."
For Delisle it was the first and only time he has been homeless. Aside from the difficulties of surviving the weather when he first moved there--in the beginning he wore five shirts to stay warm--he says they were harrassed the whole time they were there. But he's not bitter.
"DIVER DAVE" is one of the legends of Navarro Beach. He spent nine years there, from age 21 to 30. For him the attraction was the beach itself.
"It was always a place to go when life was stressful," says Dave sitting on a bed that serves as a couch in the front room of an appartment in Fort Bragg. For instance, he went there to heal after a motorcycle accident that left the right side of his face scarred and his right arm lame.
"I was cut off," says Dave, "by a drunk driver at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I didn't have a helmet on, I didn't have shoes on. It was Hawaii. I spilled lots of blood and half my mind all over Hawaiian asphalt."
Six months later, following surgery and physical therapy, he came to the beach for psychological healing. "The beach has supplied food and shelter and warmth for me for years, but the strongest benefit I have ever received from it is psychological."
He insists, like others, that the beach has magical powers. Magical or not, it is a beach whose wild beauty and vastness make even the dullest soul take note. And in recent years those with an eye for a view of nature, if not a desire to actually live in it, have built houses along the cliffs above the Navarro. Most have not cared for the sight of the gypsy camp on the beach below.
Dave used to collect wood and build bonfires on the beach. State Park rules now limit the amount of wood collected to 50 pounds of drift wood, and all fires must be built in officially sanctioned pits. This conflicts with an occasional pagan urge Dave has to build spectacular fires.
"You can cook a hot dog there," says Dave, "but it is not a happy fire."
Camping is restricted now too. Dave used to live part of the time in a giant crevice in the rocks on the north side of the Navarro. The north side was called Jamaica because it is warmer than the south side. Parks no longer allows him to visit his beloved Jamaica.
He has a bath tub now in his apartment in Fort Bragg, but it is little compensation for Jamaica. He says he has not been happy since he "lost the beach."
Dave is an intense speaker. Depending on the topic, his eyes tear up when he talks. But he's light-hearted when he tells how he got the name Diver Dave.
Some years back, he says, there was a guy who lived at the beach named Bob (not Bob Jarrel, the esteemed final "mayor" of Navarro Beach). Bob lived in a trailer there with his wife and kids and was a "little nuts," says Dave. But his wife and kids were okay, and everybody liked them. Bob referred to himself as the mayor of the beach.
One summer, kind of for amusement, Bob began to call all the guys at the beach "Bob" and all the women "Bobbette." (Any non-beach person was called a "tourist.") It was kind of amusing and everybody went along with it for a couple of months. But, says Dave, a problem arose. When two Bobs were talking about a Bob who was not present, they did not really know who they were talking about. Thus one Bob became "Lanky Bob," another became "Big Bob," and so on. Dave, who was a passionate diver, became "Diver Bob."
When the name game was dropped at the end of the Summer, most went back to their real names, but with Dave, the appendage "Diver" stuck; he became and remained Diver Dave.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed of his Fort Bragg apartment, the walls covered with aqua-colored tie-dye fabric, Dave looks like a beached sea god. He's coping with the situation but, like Lord Poseidon denied access to the sea, does not look happy.
ACCORDING TO BOB JARRELL, former "mayor" of Navarro Beach, liberty is a thing of the past. He lives in a house now, doesn't haul water anymore, flips a switch when he wants to read, but does not seem pleased.
"Mayor" Bob was the primary spokesperson of the homeless squatters who were evicted from Navarro Beach nearly a year ago. Principles of liberty and articles of the U.S. Constitution were the arguments advanced by Bob against the eviction. They failed to convince the court that the squatters had a right to the beach. Free legal representation by Redwood Legal Services also failed to convince the court that the squatters constituted a "community" that was being displaced, entitling them to financial help in relocating.
Thus on February 3, 1994 the ragtag band of squatters--about 60 people living in old trailers and make- shift shelters--was evicted from a camp at the base of the Navarro River. Immediate neighbors were happy to see them go; others claimed that a great moral injustice had been committed, especially since small children were forced out onto the road in mid Winter with no help. The situation was emotionally charged. Some still prefer not to discuss it.
JARRELL NOW LIVES in a house near Booneville in the Anderson Valley. It is small, barn-red, and located in an area occupied mostly by farm workers. Sheets substitute for curtains in the windows.
On a cold, wet day in December--a day that seemed like but one in an unending succession of such days back then--Jarrell talked his favorite theme: liberty. "We don't have the liberties on any public lands, and any liberty on any private land; that's one of the reason we stayed down at the beach for what we believed in."
According to Jarrell there is not much liberty of any type these days. He cites as an example his recent effort to legally purchase a truck. "For a $375 truck," says Jarrell, his voice a nasal whine, "the state wants $1188 in order to be able to sell it. It had a 'non-op,' and somebody forgot to get a tag for it." Thus the state demanded unpaid registration fees plus penalties.
The situation is familiar to many, but it's particularly rankling to someone with little money. For someone who is poor, it can make becoming legal almost impossible. Says Jarrell, who is a laborious defender of personal rights, "That's a violation of Article 10, Paragraph 1 [of the U.S. Constitution], which states that no state shall pass any law which shall inhibit or stop anybody from completing any kind of contract."
(He refers in fact to Article 1, Section 10, paragraph 1, which states that "no state shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts"--not necessarily the same thing as "completing any kind of contract.")
Jarrell is quick to cite the Constitution when his freedom is inhibited. At times he sounds like a broken record. But he could probably write an entertaining "Catch- 22" for the homeless." Although there are many situations that frustrate all citizens these days, rich or poor, there are situations that totally incapacitate the homeless person aspiring to "clean up his act."
One of Jarrell's trailers sits at the side of his house along with his old, rusted out Chevy ranch wagon. But another sits "elsewhere." Says Jarrell, "If you move it on the road, the state owns it," and hence can take it. And if he leaves it where it is, he says, he violates county law. "That's why I can't move my old trailers or dispose of them or anything else." His tone is peevish, like a man whose First Amendment rights to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel have been blocked.
Jarrell has been in contact with a number of the former residents of Navarro Beach. He says that a lot are depressed because of the "hassle" of a year ago. He himself looks low, as though drained by the energy required of that situation.
Maybe he also looks low because of what followed the eviction. Like some of the others who have found a steady situation, it took a number of moves to do so. From Navarro Beach he and his family went to Jackson State Park for two weeks. Then they moved to a friend's property in Caspar, but fearing "repercussions" from the county, moved back to Jackson State Park. There the Jarrells overextended their stay. (A $100 fine was later suspended.) Next they moved to south Fort Bragg for two days until the County Health Department showed up. The next move was to the current location outside of Booneville. That was four months ago.
Although Jarrell laments the loss of liberty, he says he does like bathing and laundry facilities. "Those are the true luxuries," he says with a laugh that cuts through the down mood of the day. He says his kids like where they live now and prefer Anderson Valley High to Mendocino.
He speaks from a kind of basement garage underneath the house. An old refrigerator, missing its door, is stuffed with junk. "Spider" sits quitely nearby smoking an unfiltered cigarte as Jarrell, a heavy-set man with thick brown hair, goes through the list of Navarro Beach residents. Thelma, publisher of the "Homeless Times," is dead, he says. "Wizzard" has a room in Ft. Bragg. Thunder is back from travels and is living on land in Albion. Mike and Debbie live in Ft. Bragg and have jobs and a phone . . . .
Jarrell leaves the protection of the garage to talk with two PG&E workers who have come about a downed power line to the house. The installation--not Jarrell's doing-- wasn't code. It is going to cost $300 for the permit. The landlord shows up--a chunky little blond woman in red boots and pink sweater--and shakes her head. She is not happy. It begins to drizzle in the Anderson Valley.
FOR BILL BERRY, it was a perplexing situation. It was his first duty as the new Park Superintendant for the Mendocino Coast. He had to throw some sixty squatters, including children, out of what they considered home.
On eviction day he stood by the camp at the beach in full ranger uniform, including brown, stiff-rimmed hat. "This isn't fun," he said, his voice boyish, sensitive. "I haven't slept well for the last four or five nights."
In retrospect, says Berry, he was cheered on in the eviction action by some of the neighbors while others opposed it. "It's kind of a quandary," he says, speaking over the phone from State Parks Headquarters at Russian Gulch on a day when the winds and rains died down for a few hours.
"It was not an easy thing to do," says Berry. "Coming from the position of State Parks, I have a responsibility to make sure that our rules and regulations are adherred to." But he admits the people on the beach had "certain needs" and felt like they were being kicked out of their homes.
The positive aspect for him now, he says, is that he was able to resolve the problem without arrests or physical confrontation. He says he was given a lot of leeway in handling the situation and was told that State Parks did not want a lot of "negative publicity."
Berry says he avoided a lot of criticism by simply going out and talking with people on both sides of the issue. "In the past," he says, "a lot of bureaucracy wants to say, hey, we're the State; we don't have to tell you. And that just doesn't work, especially in this community."
While that deflected criticism from State Parks, it did not resolve the underlying moral issue of how to treat the homeless.
In some ways the situation exhibited the conflict between moral conscience and the State as depicted in the novel "Billy Budd" by Herman Melville. In that work a ship's captain resigns after carrying out a legal responsibility--hanging young Budd for striking an officer-- that conflicts with his conscience. Where law and conscience do not agree, the conflict can be wrenching.
As to the park itself, Berry says it's in better shape. "We have elimintated driving on the beach, which has reduced the degradation of a lot of the plant life there. It appears to have increased the use of the area by harbor seals."
Most of the local cliff-dwelling neighbors are pleased as well. Says an exultant Loraine Toth, "We have our beach back." Before, she said, she wouldn't set foot on it.
BUT NOT EVERYONE thinks that a "difficult situation" was handled well. Al Fisher of Blessed Sacrament Church in Elk grew up on a farm, served in the military, and until retirement worked in marketing for a pharmaceutical company. He's a conservative Republican and a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was president of the Elk Alter Society at the time of the eviction, and he feels the same way about it today that he felt a year ago: He thinks the state or the county should have helped to relocate the people living at the beach. Says Fisher, an imposing, grey-haired gentleman with gravelly voice, "We have more than sufficient room in Mendocino County--it's one of the sparcest counties in terms of population. I'm sure that the county and the state could have found some other relocation area for them."
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