Housing renewal should be Jamestown’s next project

Union Democrat staff

The contrast is stark, even haunting.

Jamestown's Main Street, target of more than a half million dollars in beautification funds over the past decade, is a showplace. New sidewalks, planter boxes, improved building facades and brick-trimmed intersections are all part of an attractive downtown package.

Locomotive No. 3, gleaming after a million-dollar overhaul, awaits visitors at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. At Jamestown's old jail, reclaimed from a Lodi-area theme park and refurbished with funds raised in a communitywide campaign, is a Rocca Park highlight.

Yet no more than three blocks off Main Street are some of Tuolumne County's most run- down and desperate neighborhoods.

Democrat reporter Walt Cook, in a tract not far from Jamestown

School, found potholes, feral cats, foraging dogs, broken-down homes

and piles of uncollected garbage. On Ninth Avenue, he reported, was an

abandoned trailer surrounded by trash, circled by stray cats and

perforated by broken windows. Its roof leaked and it was without

effective heating or ventilation, putting tenants at risk for carbon

monoxide poisoning.

What's worse, the trailer blended in: The neighborhood is a

rundown, unkempt part of Jamestown known to some as "the ghetto." Life

there is marginal, with tenants bearing life in sometimes abominable

conditions because they know the alternative is homelessness.

Jamestown's dichotomy is stark, and the questions it raises are urgent.

How did the community's downtown find help and prosperity, while

residential areas only a stone's throw away plunged into squalor?

More importantly, what, if anything, can be done now to help

Jamestown blighted residential areas and others around the county?

Jamestown's Main Street renaissance was the product of merchants

and community activists who wanted to improve the then-drab, but very

public face of Jamestown. Because the community is the gateway to

Tuolumne County, the cause found support, and the lengthy renovation

process began.

Now, with improvements in place, Main Street is populated by

businesses whose owners share a pride in their the downtown area.

Can such a transformation come to residential areas on Jamestown's mean streets?

"With private property, it's more difficult," said Tuolumne County Supervisor Dick Pland, whose district includes Jamestown.

Short of the time-consuming condemnation process, the county has

few tools to force property owners or landlords to make improvements.

Aggravating the situation is the moribund economy, the looming threat

of foreclosure and the grinding inertia created among residents of a

dead-end neighborhood.

That said, there are answers.

Pland said community development block grants could be used for

neighborhood improvement. County incentives for first-time homebuyers

and another program that helps property owners make needed repairs

could make a difference.

Beetle Barbour, housing coordinator for the Amador-Tuolumne

Community Action Agency, and Sheila Shanahan, head of Tuolumne County's

affordable housing program, said there may be grant funds available to

help build clean, energy-efficient and economical homes.

But the most encouraging development is Mother Lode Property

Management's ongoing work on a run-down 16-unit duplex project on 10th

avenue. Not only are the units being overhauled top to bottom, said a

company spokeswoman, but rents will stay low.

Such private-sector projects - especially if they are done with

concern for existing tenants who may be displaced - have the potential

to engender both pride in the home and pride in the neighborhood.

As the transformation of Jamestown's Main Street proves, such pride

is a contagious and essential ingredient to community improvement, and

should be encouraged at every turn.

The Union Democrat
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