Playing Dirty, Trapped in Blight
At midnight in the Spruce Manor of Foothill Farms, you can hear the blood curdling screams of thirty disease ridden feral cats as they fight and fornicate throughout the poorly lit alleyway. The stench of their noxious spray is evenly distributed throughout the entire neighborhood; it permeates everything and signifies ownership of the territory. An emaciated man emerges from one of the filthy laundry rooms from which he has stolen the only light bulb, he will fashion it into a makeshift pipe and use it to inhale the acrid smoke of crystal meth. He is a local wanderer I see from time to time an unofficial tenant if you will, teeth rotten to the gum line wearing tattered clothes and sporting greasy unwashed hair. He has many friends just like him who have taken up residence in the vacant units, their shopping carts parked in every nook and dark hideaway. Across the street another man is elbows deep in the community trash bin searching for that aluminum gold with a mini Mag Light in his mouth, he has been in the same receptacle for hours clanging around and breaking bottles on the oil stained and pitted blacktop. Gunfire cracks angrily in the distance, announcing proudly that someone may meet an unfortunate and common fate. Less than a quarter of a mile away sits the Sacramento County Sheriff’s department North Command, shining like a huge fake diamond and just as worthless. Local Deputies often arrive an hour after being called with sage advice that I should move, break my lease because the neighborhood will never change. I surmise that this is as good an excuse as any to not receive quality policing and their suggestions are indicative of powerless indifference.
Perched upon every side of the street near the four- way stop of Auburn and Garfield looms a check cashing and pay day loan shop. Each one emblazoned with a jovial sign that lulls its minimum wage consumers into a false sense of complacency, handing them service with a smile then viciously raping them for a high percentage and interest rate. The seven eleven situated on the corner sells a half gallon of milk and a dozen eggs for over a dollar and a half more than a major grocery chain, assuring that the single Mom without a car will walk to the closest location to feed her babies and be thrust ever deeper into the pit of poverty. The local liquor and smoke shop is the place to go for alcohol and nicotine or a military gas mask if you need it, complete with a connection device which allows one to attach it to the myriad of glass bongs and pipes they also peddle. They assure the county they are for novelty purposes or tobacco consumption only and prosperously dance along the thin grey line of the law .The streets are alive with billboards and neon, of course there is no money in advertising college so the image of choice is beer intertwined with sex. There is a seedy lingerie shop called Suzie’s where lonely men park their cars around the back for anonymity, after dropping their quarters in the booth for thirty seconds of video love they slink outside with looks of shame as if they have stolen from a baby. This is the reality of Foothill Farms California, it didn’t used to be that way but it has evolved into a disgusting demon of vagrancy, crime, and drug addiction. Several years ago it was a quiet and quaint neighborhood where children could play without risk of stubbing their tiny toes on an HIV infected syringe but these days are no more. Although many people believe that we create our own fates entirely, that the individual is solely responsible for his choice of environment, this logic can be argued as flawed due to the many socioeconomic factors involved in the ultimate decline of neighborhoods, and structural factors which trap the impoverished and breed perpetual crime.
The most notable decline of Foothill Farms can be traced back to the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) act of the Federal Government when McClellan Air Force Base was forced to shut down entirely by the year 2001.The closure of this airbase caused most military families to pull up their long established roots in the area, taking with them the foundations of financial stability and the core values of the diligent blue collar working man. From the years 2000 through 2010 the Federal Government reports that over twenty percent of the population of Foothill Farms was living below the poverty line which is nearly seven percent higher than the national average.Slowly, family oriented businesses and local real estate investors began their hasty retreat to more fertile grounds, leaving behind them vacancies eventually filled by those who have figured out the precise formula for cashing in on those defined as low income.
Neighborhoods like the Spruce Manor, once beautiful and built to accommodate responsible working class families have since been taken over by slumlords disconnected from their properties by hundreds of miles. Their concern is not with the quality of life for human beings, but rather the quality of the revenue achieved each and every month. One long- time resident elaborated on the slumlord dynamic by saying: “….you have an owner that lives two hundred miles away in his mansion or some shit, insulated by a management company who is never here….now Code Enforcement is involved, forcing these assholes to do what they were supposed to do in the first place.”(Anonymous) The inattention of the purposefully absent landlords throws the properties into an unacceptable state of neglect and its tenants into discomfort, while also breeding wanton crime and virtual anarchy.
Realizing the economic shift, and understanding that those on welfare or SSI may not be heavily concerned with a cup of Starbucks in the morning before they travel to their non-existent job, the savvy businessmen salivated at the prospect that 35 to 45 percent of low income families do not possess a bank account. As a result, they learned to move in for the economic kill and capitalize on misfortune through colonizing the neighborhoods with payday loan centers, check cashing, and pawn shops. Historically, pawn shops in particular have been notorious for feeding cycles of crime through facilitating the ability to fence stolen goods, increasing the likelihood of burglaries, larceny, and robbery within the community. A paper drafted at the University of Michigan School of Law supports this theory stating: “Pawnshops serve the credit needs of low-income individuals and consequently locate in higher crime communities. However, pawnshops are often suspected of being outlets for stolen property and if so, they may stimulate criminal activity.”
In the shadows stands yet another pimp of humanity prostituting addicts for financial gain, the drug dealer engages in back alley transactions of one of the most destructive and dangerous street drugs that the world has ever seen; crystal methamphetamine. This drug has ravaged people and low income communities for years and Foothill Farms is certainly no exception to the rule, “….there is some new way (to manufacture it) now, they are shaking that stuff up in Gatorade bottles with lithium batteries, they call it “shake and bake” or something like that.”(Anonymous) Piggy-backing the underground methamphetamine trade is the sex industry, the adult bookstores and strip clubs enjoy a thriving living from the bi-product of the caustic chemical cocktail. “It (meth) increases sexual pleasure, it increases sexual activity, and it increases the extreme kinds of high-risk behavior that lead to HIV and other STDs. More-so than any other drug.”The sex shops, strip clubs, and adult bookstores understand the sex correlation, just as liquor stores understand the need to provide the paraphernalia used in consumption of the drug. Both enjoy a perfect parasitic relationship, sucking the blood of profit from the afflicted, continuing to contribute to the downfall of neighborhoods, and eventually killing the host.
Attempting to combat the continuous erosion of Foothill Farms is the economically decimated Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department who’s sheer lack of resources along with the structure of the community, cause them to flail in the face of crime like a skinny fourth grader to a sixth grade school yard bully.Former Sheriff John McGinniss drafted a power point presentation outlining the 2010 to 2011 fiscal budget of his department which shows the complete removal of all high impact officers and narcotics detectives due to the economic crisis of California and Sacramento as a whole.When called for less serious crimes where no imminent physical danger is involved, Deputies often seem inconvenienced and appear overworked, tired, and drained. All of this is apparently due to their frustration for their lack of economic resources to protect the people.
Inattention to the crime and blight of communities has far reaching implications which extend well beyond the constraints of the concrete jungle. The effects can be found intertwined in suburbia where typically good kids will learn of the wares peddled in the forbidden city, and their curiosity and will to experiment will carry them to where the getting is rumored to come easy. In their intuitive state and inherent naiveté they can easily fall victim to crime, and carry home with them the corruption of addiction and disease.
It is incredibly difficult to turn a community around once it has been caught within the death-grip of poverty, removing the businesses which prey on the weak is nearly impossible once they have staked their vicious claim. Convincing viable and healthy commerce to move into ruin can be even more of an arduous task, as they know that what they sell is quite possibly a service that the current residents do not require, and nor can likely afford. Surely no one will travel from the affluent neighborhoods and into the trenches to patronize them, when they can find the same service closer to the safety of home.
Lack of resources for law enforcement holds profound cost to impoverished cities. The frustration and danger of far too less officers creates unacceptable response times, and inattention to lesser crimes. This breeds discontent in officers and a feeling of distrust in the residents seeking help, residents who may not understand the economic impact causing the inability of our civil servants to fight crime proactively. As officers remain spread hopelessly thin, criminal activity continues to build in frequency and sophistication in their absence, leaving the community vulnerable and mired ever deeper into the pit of despair.
As difficult or impossible as the task may seem, there is a ray of hope that can shine on the tarnished streets of Foothill Farms. To start with, a term described as Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS, has been found to significantly decrease crime in large cities by simply increasing the amount of police. These extra officers can be concentrated in the most problematic areas, and are able to communicate more effectively in regards to the concerns of citizens.To achieve more officers requires funding, and I believe that the solution rests with higher taxes on the very businesses and slumlords which prey upon and feed the horrible cancer. In the action of taxation lies another positive possible byproduct, higher taxes could potentially cause the enabling capitalists of ill repute to make hasty retreat to cheaper grounds, or better still; give up their parasitic mission entirely.
Services for the community should be explored in an effort to unite the neighborhood, a center where neighbors can come together and achieve familiarity and awareness. A safe zone for children to congregate and play would be beneficial, with volunteer big brothers and sisters that can pass down the knowledge of good behaviors as well as the consequence of the bad. With the knowledge that this area is caught in a whirlwind of drug addiction, it would be further prudent to consider developing comprehensive rehabilitation services contained within the immediate reach of the afflicted populations. Such an undertaking would not only assist addicts, but create jobs filled by college educated professionals who would likely out of convenience, take up residence within the neighborhood as well and help to solidify a foundation built of responsibility.
Lending more credence to the hope is the fact that the County of Sacramento has recognized this neighborhood as being problematic, and has had the will and drive to develop the Old Foothill Farms Community and Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan, contained within this plan is an outline for “All Hands on Deck” to wipe out nuisances, and a plan to establish a clear economic path for Auburn Boulevard.The waves of change while understandably slow, are beginning to be seen in the construction of for-sale and rentable senior housing the likes of which should revitalize areas of Auburn Boulevard where viable businesses no longer thrive. Providing that the City remains steadfast and tenacious in its effort to shake off the grit and grime for good, the neighborhood could surely see an exciting and prosperous turn around within the next ten years. A great success can be achieved here, however we must remember to never become complacent as there is always room to improve and further options to explore to effect positive and lasting change.