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home : opinions : columns July 24, 2014

4/4/2013 5:00:00 PM
GUEST EDITORIAL: The rise and fall of Blythe: Will it rise once again?
By Sam Patel
Blythe Vice-mayor

On Wednesday, March 13, I attended the Grand Opening of the Napa Auto Parts store on Commercial Street at the old Deken's Farm Equipment store, which closed their doors a couple of years ago. Once upon a time, most successful businesses went belly up amid economic downturns. That is not the case in our local community. Question comes to mind, "What is happening to Blythe and the Palo Verde Valley?

Once Blythe had so much going on. Blythe was a thriving town. There were many businesses along Hobsonway, Spring Street, Main Street, and Broadway. Gas stations were almost on every corner on Hobsonway.

Three grocery stores, plus J.C. Penny, Sears Catalog Store, and Strouse, plus Sizzler was on east end. If you wanted good steak you had choice between Courtesy Coffee Shop, Mac Steakhouse, or Black Point on Highway 95. Plenty of watering holes on Main Street.

When I came to Blythe in 1978, a new McDonalds was just opening on Lovekin. Even then, Blythe was showing tawdriness. Economic dark clouds were approaching. Now we have old empty buildings and vacant lots east to west on Hobsonway. Many current businesses are hanging on by the threads. What has happened to Blythe and why did it happen? To find the answer, I think we have to go back 50 years at the beginning of our decline.

Blythe may be small town in size but in the past, her economic boundary was 50 miles in every direction. Blythe was the hub of economic activities. To the west of town, Desert Center had 200 families that were connected to Blythe. Many of their kids were coming daily to school in Blythe. When these families received their paychecks from Kaiser Mine, they came to Blythe to bank, buy their groceries and other needs. Many attended high school football games. Time to time, some even stayed overnight in Blythe, spending their money on motels, restaurants, and bars. When Kaiser Mine closed, most families moved and money stopped coming to Blythe.

In addition, there were about 100 families in the town of Midland, just 20 miles north of Blythe. The gypsum mine operations was at its peak, and about 1,000 people were calling Midland their home. In early '60s, gypsum mine closed and all of the families moved out. No mine, no paychecks. Money stops coming to Blythe.

Agriculture has a long history of being the number one industry for Blythe, generating about 100 million dollars in revenue annually, a good share of which was spent in labor costs and was spent in Blythe. A large number of people in Blythe were in some way depending on agriculture or other farm related businesses for their livelihoods. Eight months out of a year, Blythe was home to many seasonal migrant workers. Many of our businesses, such as motels, restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, etc., were depending on farm workers. In late 1970s, farm labor movement picked up force and had direct impact upon farms, and farmers started changing crops to minimize labor costs. Fewer paychecks had a direct negative effect upon the economy of Blythe.

Once upon a time, Hobsonway was Route 60. All motorists were passing through town on Hobsonway. All businesses had opportunities to show and sell goods and products to motorists. That is why we had so many gas stations and small business on Hobsonway. There were more gas stations and motels in 1960 in Blythe than we have today.

The opening of Interstate 10 not only divided the city of Blythe geographically, but was also a huge economic blow to our local community. Now motorists pass through Blythe at 70 miles an hour without even noticing its existence. Within a short time, fast-food outlets and gas stations opened up in the vicinity of only one exit, Lovekin. Motorists now found no reason to drive through town and gas stations and other small businesses along Hobsonway started closing their doors amid a lock of business. Small older motels went out of business and others, seeing the writing on the wall, joined with national chains in an attempt to survive.

In addition to these major events during the last 50 years, many small mines around the Palo Verde Valley were closed, causing many jobs to disappear as well. Two oil embargoes put the national economy on a freeze, even though their duration was short; the economic effects were long lasting in Blythe.

There have been three real estate bubbles created, which burst and left our local community facing a long wait for recovery, usually at the tail end of the rest of the state. While not directly affecting Blythe, do not overlook the technology bubble which negatively affected California for a decade.

Our community leaders and city government also saw the coming times and took actions to minimize the fiscal impact of events and to support the local economy. In the mid-'60s, the city of Blythe opened a new golf course on Mesa Bluff to attract snowbirds. Without the golf course, development of Mesa Bluff and Rancho Ventana Resort would not have happened. After many ups and downs, the golf course is now the focal point of economic growth to come in that area.

In the early '80s, the economy of our valley reached its lowest point. In desperation, action was taken to bring correctional institutions to the Blythe area. Chuckawalla Valley State Prison opened its doors in 1988 and in a few years we got a second - Ironwood State Prison.

I still question whether we will ever get the full economic benefits from these two institutions which were promised. However, I admit that many businesses may have closed their doors if we did not have them and the collateral benefits, especially during construction.

Palo Verde College is a major beneficiary of these two prisons being here. Our community college is one of the best things to ever have happened to this community, especially for the futures of our young people. It is a beautiful campus and the rich variety of educational programs is second to none in the state of California.

Yes, businesses closed their doors and left empty buildings, but it was not all negative economic news. K-mart opened its new building on West Hobsonway, and a few years later moved to another new and larger building. Inland Supply expanded its business by taking over the old K-mart building. Albertsons' moved to a new and larger building with Rite-Aid.

We did succeed in getting a new city and county building and Hobsonway was renovated. We got a new Starbucks and recently, a new Rite-Aid, replacing an old motel. Yes, we have lost some businesses on Hobsonway and Dekens was a major loss, but there have been some gains as well.

We managed to secure a gas-fired, state of the art power plant, which represented almost $300 million investment during construction. We are also at the heart of the current solar power developments in Southern California, which during construction means considerable economic impacts locally. There are some concerns over the size of the footprints of these projects, which we will be living with for decades, and the permanent local benefits may be fleeting once construction ceases. The reality of future utility costs going up because of the high cost of solar power projects is also a sobering thought during our hot summers.

It seems like we as a community have been trying to do everything right. Yet something went wrong. Most of the communities surrounding us, like Yuma, El Centro, Brawley, Imperial, even Quartzsite, appear to have grown and are prospering. Yet here in Blythe, we are going nowhere. What went wrong? What was it that we missed? Why does our community look aged and rundown? Finally, do not forget that the city is broke financially, emotionally, and physically.

Are we going to learn from history and correct our mistakes or is history going to repeat itself? We need to find answers and a solution to a better future.

Please call me, Sam Patel, (760) 285-2858 with your ideas.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, April 8, 2013
Article comment by: Peace Be Still

Mr. Patel, having grown up in Blythe and now gearing into my retirement years I can only add that yes, Blythe really was thriving at that point and time, why or what has made Blythe what it has become?Mr. Patel, change is never easy for anyone, we live in a world that is changing every day and will continue to change. Take a look around, there are new businesses and there are in fact thriving businesses. We must take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. What ideas do you have to revive Blythe? Or is Blythe where it needs to be at this point in time? There must be some good in Blythe or the exsisting population would not exsist......we need our positive thinking caps on and a big dose of God's intervention in our hearts.

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: Two Suggestions

1. Clean up the place. Visitors are not going to stop in a place that is trashy. It's trashy.
2. Clean up the place. Visitors are not going to stop in a place that is trashy. It's trashy.

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: unfortunate truth

The reality is that people and businesses are fleeing the whole state at an alarming rate. California has some of the highest tax rates, high worker compensation insurance rates, overburdening regulations, and a in many areas an unskilled workforce. Until we fix our state government it will be difficult to compete with other river towns in Arizona. The city must figure out how to ease regulations on businesses and not rule with an iron fist. The few dealings that I have had with city officials have left me feeling like they were working against me and not with me. Attitudes like that must change. The final suggestion I have is that we as a community need to have our fights at meetings and not in the readers comment section of a newspaper or on facebook. People hiding behind their computer screens do not do much to advance the community and just make outsiders think that our beautiful little town is completely disfunctional. I grew up here and can never remember a time where so much name calling and hatred was happening. A little civility would go a long way

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: Donald Phillips

Your state will have a lot more problems due to the government in Sacramento. Let the town relax and get its breath. I got there in 1942 and it was rather sparse. The airbases were being built and all things were rationed. If the people in power keep pushing then it's over. Everybody has to work at it.

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: Agree ? Disagree?

Blythe used to be bigger than the cities you mentioned. I've been in this area for about 40 years now and even though the economy may not be the best, Blythe is at it's worst. There have been numerous opportunities for Blythe to grow, however, decisions made and votes casts have closed the doors on those opportunities. The river is always low and there is nothing for out-of-towners to do after dark, if they did come to the river, i.e., no movies, no shopping, no entertainment venues, etc. It seems to me that if there isn't some sort of monetary gain for elected officials or current business people, nothing new is going to come to Blythe. Even though, in the long run, it could benefit the current businesses. The prisons did help the housing market, but because there is nothing else here, people are going to go out of town for goods, services and a movie or two. That does not benefit the local ecomony at all. While the solar plant may be beneficial for the environment, it also takes away from our deserts. We used to ride quads out there, but no more. One more hobby squashed for Blythe. Now we take our quads out of town too. I think when the city decision makers (not leaders) decide on what is good for all of us, they really should keep in mind ALL OF US.

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: Jan Sorensen

#1 Clean up the grafitti. #2 Offer incentives for businesses to come into Blythe. #3 Turn the hospital and staff into a positive note. #4 Clean up the brush and repaint the houses along the 10 fwy. Bring in another Restaurant chain along Intake Blvd. GOOD LUCK.

Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Article comment by: Terry Kratzer

I think the biggest problem might be the I-10 bypassing Blythe by basically going over the city. Go 400 miles northeast of Blythe to the city of Bishop. Locals fought hard to keep highway 395 going right through the middle of Bishop, although the state wanted to go around Bishop with the highway, and the place continues to thrive. Blythe is in a tough spot, everyone who travels through Blythe stops at the Flying J in Ehrenberg, it has gas (a lot cheaper than in Blythe), a couple of restaurants, a hotel, a convenience store...and what else is there? I came to Blythe in 1979 when the city was thriving. Now, from Albertsons down to Intake, it is a ghost town. I am not sure what the answer is, but Blythe is right on the river on a major interstate, too bad somebody can't come up with a plan to bring this sleepy little town back to life...

Posted: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Article comment by: EL PICA BUYAS

Funny I remember writing something like this before, but I got attacked about it. Again in which it proves another point, I have been making. You can believe in the same things as another person or even write about the same things. But if the other person is not liked, he will be made fun of and belittled called many things. This is why Blythe will never see the light of day. There are many good people here in Blythe, that could help this dying community. But remember just because you are popular and well liked goes not mean that you know what you are doing. That's for the people that are thinking of running again in the next election. Case in point look at Blythe now from 40 years ago. We need a person to think about the whole community and not just his bank account. This is what 70% of the people holding public office think about. Them, Family, and close Associates. Think about the Bank Book, bottom dollar.

Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013
Article comment by: I agree- mostly

Good recollections, Sam. However, your closing remark I would have to take issue with. What the city manager says, I don't really see. I know that charming little sign that DeConnink and the manager wanted keeps saying how the council "saved" $100,000, and am inclined to be suspect of that. I DO, however, hope that means they, and their golfing buddies at Rancho Ventana have decided that a darling little Welcome station was a very bad decision and are, instead, doing something to really bring people INTO Blythe, and, once they come downtown, they will be impressed with what they see and hear. That little idea HAS to be at least in the top 2-3 asinine things the managers and council members have ever done. Spend the money on cleaning up the town, repairing some of the crummy pot holes, rid us of the graffiti, and take positive action on the artists and their families, chop down some of the shrubs, etc. that block the drivers' views when turning. Get property owners to clean up their property, or pay the city to do it for them. Create a town that will welcome businesses. Support the entire town, not just listen to your buddies. You sound kinda like the hospital situation. You allowed friends who were worried about their own businesses, when you lost Walmart. I say if business owners will just put on a different face, Walmart won't take anything away from them. Quit the boot-licking and do what is right for our town. And while you are at it, get the police to get going on their aspects of town support.

Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013
Article comment by: M R

Sam, I've seen you on city council meeting recordings, and I respect your opinion on many city matters. As a Blythe native who's lived outside of Blythe for a long time, I can say that it's selfishness and myopia that's causing problems in this town. I and other residents I've talked to think that we should build up the river, and I don't mean riverfront housing (you won't attract people to Blythe that way). I'm talking about businesses and commerce on the river perhaps even a motel riverside. Why do we keep building further and further away from the river, and not towards it? Look at it from a business perspective a welcome center won't bring people to this town. Take it from someone who's traveled almost all 50 states by car. I NEVER stop at welcome centers! I stopped in towns that had something unique. We could turn the river from "just another river" into something unique. We should have been what Lake Havasu is, as we are on one of the most traveled interstates in the country. As you well know in business, you want to focus on what gives people incentive to drop by in the first place.

Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Palermo

Sam, thank you for the chronology of Blythe's spiral. Two other items not mentioned, NAFTA and the California water wars creating a money vacuum. Cheap goods from across the border and making it profitable for a local farmer to fallow a chunk of land to sell the water rights to MWD. As for the city's financial woes. It is a State wide if not a Country wide problem of boom times with property taxes flowing into coffers seemed endless. Now once great cities like Stockton are filing bankruptcy and are trying to wiggle out from under the employee retirement system that they can't seem to keep solvent. The private sector paid dearly in 2008-2010, now it will be the public sector that will be adjusted. I can see Blythe running out of reserves and ending up in Federal Bankruptcy court like Mammoth Lakes, Stockton. The lack of austerity has come to this end. It seems like many cities across the land have not quite caught on yet.

Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Article comment by: Phantom Nose

The problem in the hospital is dragging our entire community down. Compare what has happened with healthcare in each of those other communities (even Quaetzsite) during the last ten or twelve years at the same time that the problem has slowly eaten away at our hospital.

By the way, your City Manager says the City is in great financial shape.

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