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Caspar Community Frequently Asked Questions

Caspar : Frequently Asked Questions


Where is Caspar?

Caspar is 160 miles (200 kilometers) north of San Francisco on the scenic Mendocino Coast, halfway between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Driving directions to the Caspar Community Center can be found here.

We have an afternoon to spare in San Francisco -- should we come to Caspar?


We're always amazed by how many friends and colleagues ask this question. The 160 miles from what we call The City (San Francisco) is half mountainous and windy and all scenic, and the Mendocino Coast deserves a few days of your attention at least. In-season weekends (from 14 February until 1 January) can fill up, especially if you're coming on a long weekend, so make your accommodation arrangements ahead of time. Then take it slow, enjoy the vineyards and the redwoods, and plan for a relaxing stay.

Can I get to Caspar by train?

Well, sort of, if you're persistent. There is an Amtrak *bus* that connects with trains in Martinez then runs through Santa Rosa and Ukiah on its way to Eureka. The MTA (Mendocino Transit Authority) has once-a-day public transport between Caspar and Willits, Ukiah, and Santa Rosa. You can leave Caspar about 8am and be in Santa Rosa about noon. From there you can take the Airport Express to Oakland and San Francisco, or Golden Gate Transit to San Francisco and BART-land. Coming home, the MTA leaves Santa Rosa about 3pm, Ukiah about 4:30 pm, and rolls down Caspar Road at about 6pm.

Are there any houses to rent -- short term?

Vacation rentals, but not many in Caspar. Do a search on "Mendocino Vacation Rentals" and see what turns up.

We understand the wish to come and stay in Caspar, but we're consciously short on Visitor Serving Facilities. Tourism is a mixed blessing on the Mendocino Coast, and opinions differ sharply. Maybe tourism is an extractive industry, squeezing out authenticity and replacing it with crowding, fumes, and plastic. We prefer not to take a position, but to provide rural amenities and services to our coastal community. You have a perfect right to come, and while you're here we'll treat you like a friend. But please understand our position as a residential community.

For more on this subject, see the answer on long-term housing, below.

I came across an article about Caspar in my local paper... -- How is it you folks are in the news so much?

Any chance you could send us a copy? We've gotten press from so many, far-flung places, and it's interesting to see how the word is getting out. You can send it to me care of Caspar Community, box 84, Caspar, California 95420.

We're telling a very compelling story in Caspar, about liveability, reclamation of neighborhood and community, and reinvention of small-unit governance. We've been working for years to be pro-active rather than reactive, and to be sure that any changes in ownership and value are fair to all parties. We've tackled some major issues head on, and applied system-wide thinking to our responses. We operate by consensus, and we're successful and reasonably fleet despite the diversity of our small population. And we aren't shy about telling news content seekers that we have a good story for them.

Know any news people looking for a feel-good story about a community taking control of its own future? Send them!

How big is Caspar, anyway?

Well, Siegfried Caspar was a small man who lived in a little shack down by the beach.

At one time, during the heydey of logging the Mendocino Coast to build and rebuild San Francisco and the Bay Area, some old-timers maintain that Caspar was almost as big as Fort Bragg is now (about 5,000 folks).

Since Caspar is NOT an incorporated town, the present-day answer to this question depends on how you define Caspar. If you look at watersheds and commercial spheres of influence, Caspar probably has 2,000 residents. If you just count the folks who live in metropolitan downtown Caspar, East Caspar, along 409, and South Caspar, you'll come up with between 500 and 1,100 depending on what time of day you count.

Caspar comprises about 12 square miles of area.

Why isn't Caspar incorporated?

Why would we want to do that?

In California, forming a local agency is a big deal, and has its own Commission to preside over the festivities. It costs a bunch of money to play, and then you get to pay a lot more to administer yourselves once you're incorporated. There don't appear to be any benefits.

True Believers in Government as it is Presently Formulated are impatient with Caspar, because we don't really want to join their too-often wasteful and arbitrary games. We could, for example, form a "municipal advisory commission" to which our elected County Supervisor (who represents many other communities) would then be able to appoint members. Would Caspar control the appointments? No. Would this commission have any power? Only to "advise." Does this sound attractive to you?

Congratulations on what the "Casparadoes" have accomplished in Caspar.

Thank you. It hasn't been easy. By the way, Casparados is a Spanish word, so no "oes" please -- Dan Quayle, eat your heart out.

Does the casper inn have any openings?

Please note that Casper is in Wyoming.
We're all good friends in Caspar, but businesses do their own hiring. Contact the Caspar Inn at

Does the town need or have room for a nurse practitioner?

    -- Phyllis
Phyllis, I am not qualified to say, and yours is a BIG question. We are fairly well supplied with health professionals across a wide spectrum, but we are also part of a larger community (Fort Bragg and Mendocino) with a thriving hospital and a medical community that manifests a strong belief in having a life as well as a practice.

In my own personal view, you probably already live in a little piece of heaven -- well, compared to us, not so little -- but living here I can easily appreciate why you folks out there might be willing to relocate. We Casparados daily face the fact that the seeds of our defeat may well be hidden in the warmth of our success at getting the word out about how wonderful it is to live here -- we fear that if too many people relocate to Caspar, we'll become too big, and lose our sense of community.

The most important elements of our work SHOULD be transportable and replicable in your neighborhood, in your larger community, and in what I am sure local boosters call "Greater Wherever-you-are." So we urge you to try to create the ideal place to live right where you are before packing up and leaving.

We freely grant that ours is not an easy prescription, but here it is: Proactively seek practical ways to improve your community, including ALL stakeholders (which in our case includes Osprey and Coho Salmon) in the considerations, and proceed bravely but slowly through consensus.

To learn more about how our consensus process works, here's a page about it.

I want to move to Caspar. Is housing available?

Due in part to our lucky location on the brink of a spectacular ocean, and partly because of our community's solidarity, houses in Caspar don't go up for sale as often as they do in neighboring communities -- you almost have to inherit one! Rentals are scarce, and generally handed from friend to friend like precious possessions.

Caspar, and the whole Mendocino Coast, is trapped in a triumph of bad planning: in the 1980s, under pressure from the State to write a Local Coastal Plan (LCP) and, as usual, out of money, the County designated the coast as a tax-exploitation zone for the rich, thereby making it almost impossible to build the kind of houses that constitute downtown Caspar, or to provide housing for the hundreds of hard working folks who service the tourist industry and wealthy second-home owners. As a result, many workers drive from Willits and Ukiah, sacrificing a third of their income and work time to the dominant petroleum paradigm. Without Prop 13's protection, many old timers would be forced to leave. Newcomers find conditions difficult. Even those of us with children who left for college and jobs "down below" find ourselves up against dizzy prices, scarcity, and restrictive zoning when our children wish to come home to live.

The County, under duress from several populist organizations, has begun to give lip service to revising the LCP and making space for affordable homes on the coast. The Caspar Community is presently trying to negotiate a very few such opportunities with the owner of Caspar's largest unbuilt land, despite some local opposition from folks who paid high prices for their neighboring properties. Our local housing problem, decades in the making, is not likely to go away soon, nor is correcting it a simple matter.

How does Caspar decide what to do?

Starting in 1995, we Caspars began meeting periodically "in case we might need some organization." By the time all the big open spaces in the village went on the market, we were ready.

It's true that we'd been ready before: Caspar stood tall during the opposition to off-shore oil drilling, and was at the center of a controversy over aerial broadcasting of herbicides (a standard tree-farm practice). The last time the County got around to refreshing its General Plan, Casparados spoke loud and long against gentrification of the coast (and were duly ignored). But opposition is soul-draining work, and we all agreed it would be good to try a different approach.

In 1996, when the sale and development of the important open space was immanent, those who knew of the opportunity made sure that everyone who would listen also knew, and a meeting was called. Since that time, our principal governmental technique has been monthly community meetings, with the day-to-day management handled by the Caspar Community Board of Directors. This Board is self-selected, being those villagers who are willing to spend the most hours on securing the welfare and future of all life in Caspar. There is always room on the Board for one more; if you are interested, email Board secretary Dalen Anderson and arrange to sit in on a few meetings.

The Board understands that they represent the whole community, not just those who are paying attention to local doings, and not even just those who agree with our intentions. This requires special attention to dissenters and doubters, and over the years this attention and anticipation has proven to be a force for good decisions. The Board is diverse and representative of different neighborhoods and concerns, and while this diversity causes friction at times, it, too, is a force for good decision making.

But the Board is very careful not to make binding or far-reaching decisions without carefully seeking the community's opinion. When Big Questions come up, they are brought to a well-publicized Community Meeting, where everyone is encouraged to speak.

When Really Big Questions come up, we organize neighborhood meetings, so that the diversity of our community can be preserved even if it makes the decision making process slower. When, after a series of neighborhood meetings, we took community consent to a purchase plan for the Headlands to legislators in Sacramento, the law-makers considered that the best gift we brought them was the consensus of our Caspar neighbors developed in these ways.

When you ask lots of people for their opinions, you better listen well, because they will expect to see their opinions and concerns expressed and addressed. So far, we have been remarkably successful. In part, this is due to our careful observation of process, and inclusion of everyone in that process. In greater part, perhaps, our success is due to the fact that the folks who live in Caspar, with one or two notable exceptions, are reasonable, neighborly folks who understand that intelligent compromise lies at the heart of good governance. Luckily for us, we're short on "blockers" and others who just don't want anything to change.

Who's on the Board of Directors?

Find out more about the Board on the Board home page.

What major issues are presently on Caspar's agenda?

Thank you for asking.

Possibly the biggest issue in Caspar, and in small rural villages all along California's scenic coastline, is How do we recover from decades of rampant gentrification, and make a place for our workers, our children, and "just plain folks" to live? Housing for service workers is in short supply due to a policy promulgated by County Planners statewide starting in 1970 that has eliminated small residences and mandated large, cookie-cutter "splendid" developments from San Diego to Crescent City. Along the Mendocino coast, it's a serious crisis, and in Caspar we're trying to do something to redress the balance.

A rural economy, especially one based on resource extraction (logging, fishing, tourism), has some special challenges when population pressures come into conflict with the qualities that make country living desirable. Caspar's Coho Salmon, White-tailed Kites, Burrowing Owls, have a right to live here, too. Human members of the Caspar Community have assumed the cares of species who would otherwise be voiceless in the discussions of the future, and continue to speak for the environment when necessary. Over our years of working together, we have all come to see how critical sustainability is to our mission.

One manifestation of our present unsustainability is that our children, with very few exceptions, choose or are forced to leave the Coast for educational or vocational reasons. This problem is shared by rural communities everywhere. By creating work and places to live, we hope to stem the youth drain that is sapping our community's vitality.

We understand that water is becoming for us, along with everyone else in the world, the fluid of primary concern. (It used to be oil, and we expect the off-shore oil sharks to return, but we're ready!) Already multinational corporations have attempted to buy water from our rivers and ship it elsewhere. But in Caspar we have a special opportunity and challenge: still for sale is the vestiges of the old Caspar water system, and the potential for supplying many more households. Figuring out how to control and manage the water is a major community concern.

Can anyone join in? Can I be a Caspar? How can I help?

When we started organizing, we noticed that "Once a Caspar, Always a Caspar." For example, there's a precinct here in Caspar where we all vote -- but we're not the only ones! Many who once lived in Caspar, or would like to live in Caspar, are registered to vote here in Caspar, and so voting here is a gathering of old friends, one-time and wannabe neighbors.

So, obviously, the answer is Yes, if you think you're a Caspar, you're a Caspar. We have benefitted greatly, in our deliberations, from the experiences, hopes, and fears of folks who live or have lived elsewhere.

A good way to start exercising your Caspar propensities is to come to an event at the Caspar Community Center -- Community Meetings on Second Sundays at 3pm are free, and are followed by a potluck. You'll know pretty soon if you're really a Caspar.

Caspar Community is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, and we always need volunteers and money -- you can contact the Caspar Community Center administrator by email or at 707-964-4997 and you can send money to us at Box 84, Caspar, California 95420.

But we'd much rather have you try to introduce some of our community organization tools and techniques for the betterment of your own hometown or community.

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