The following column is from Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries as part of his October 2013 "Jeffries Journal." You can subscribe to the monthly Jeffries Journal E-Newsletter at www.SupervisorJeffries.org. Supervisor Jeffries represents Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Lakeland Village and other local jurisdictions as part of the county's 1st District.
Happy Halloween! I thought that as we approached the holiday of ghosts and goblins and other things that go bump in the night, I’d tell a set of possibly related scary stories myself! How scary? Well, it all revolves around one of the most frightening sentences in the World: “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you!”
Once upon a time, there was a rookie Supervisor, still learning about how the county government works (and doesn’t work), and digging up skeletons and bones left behind by previous administrations and programs that mostly are not around anymore. One of the mysteries he investigated was the “Case of the Invisible Trail,” which then led to the “Haunted Moose Lodge Mystery.”
The Case of the Invisible Trail was initiated by a blog on the Lake Elsinore/Wildomar Patch that noted a time when Riverside County wanted to help the residents of Lakeland Village and Wildomar by building a multi-purpose trail in the community. The column documented a $400,000 contract awarded by the County Redevelopment Agency back in 2007 to design and build a short trail that connects Lakeland Village and Wildomar (which was still an unincorporated area at the time). That contract was approved by the County Board of Supervisors, as was a proposal in 2009 to actually construct that trail. But it is now 2013, and although you can see the trail on the map voted upon by the Supervisors, nobody can find the trail! What kind of sorcery is this?
Well, it didn’t take long for the rookie Supervisor and his sidekicks to discover that contrary to local lore about the invisible trail being used by ghosts to buy chocolate milk at De Jong’s Dairy, it turns out that this trail had simply never been built! Apparently when the county put the contract out to bid, it was awarded to a company that then disappeared! Well, actually it went bankrupt, but same thing, right? By then, the City of Wildomar had incorporated and become its own redevelopment agency, and the City and County decided not to re-issue the bid to build the trail. And then after that, redevelopment agencies were outlawed by the state. But at least we can now spend that $400,000 elsewhere in the community, right?
Turns out, almost half of the $400,000 was spent by one county agency paying another county agency to do studies on how to build the trail that was never built. But at least we have $200,000 left to build something in the community, right?
Maybe not. And this is what leads to the story of the Moose Lodge Mystery. Around the same time the Supervisor was looking into the invisible trail, he received an e-mail from the ghost of the redevelopment agencies past (Official name “The Successor Agency”) asking what we wanted to do with the spooky abandoned Moose Lodge in Lakeland Village that was owned by the county. The rookie Supervisor and his sidekicks drove out to investigate the property and were surprised to see that the county owned such a decrepit and dangerous building.
“What happened here?” asked the Supervisor. The creepy old caretaker (well, he’s not really creepy. Or old. Or the caretaker. He actually works for EDA) told the tale of woe. Back in the glory years, when redevelopment money flowed like beer at a Moose Lodge bar, the redevelopment agency approached the leadership of the Moose Lodge and offered to help fix up their lodge by participating in a façade improvement program run by the county. The lodge was very popular, but the building was old and rundown, so the Moose leadership thought this was a good opportunity to make the lodge look better and the county thought a better looking Moose Lodge would help improve the community. A win-win, right?
But you know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? When the contract was signed, and the county inspection folks came out to look at the building, they—wait for it---condemned it! That’s right, the same county government that just wanted to help, told them the structure was too dangerous to occupy, and kicked the Moose Members out! Fortunately for the Moose Lodge members, that apparently made the county government people feel just a bit guilty, so they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse---and in 2011 the county spent $420,000 of redevelopment money (the residual trail money? Maybe…) to buy the Moose Lodge, which was enough money for the Moose to move elsewhere. So everyone lived happily ever after, right? The Moose were safely re-located, and the county got a building!
This brings us to the current day, as the rookie Supervisor and his sidekicks tried to figure out what to do with this Moose Lodge. Could this be the new community center the Supervisor would like to have in Lakeland Village? Nope. There is no question that this building is uninhabitable, and needs to be torn down. Could we sell it and re-coup the $420,000 that taxpayers spent buying the property? Also nope. Even though it was purchased at the very bottom of the market, and property values have since begun to recover, an honest appraisal of the property’s value today is about $80,000. And that is AFTER someone pays $20-50,000 to demolish the building and foundation!
So to sum up this frightening tale, the county that came in to help build a trail and fix up a popular bar/meeting space spent $200,000 of redevelopment money to design a trail it never built, then possibly took the remaining $200,000 and added another $200,000 to buy an uninhabitable Moose Lodge that is worth a net value of about $40,000 if we tried to sell it today. In the end, we spent $600,000 of taxpayer money in this neighborhood and the community got a $40,000 piece of dirt.
Scary story, eh?