Thursday, June 13, 2002
Photo by Jessica Lyons
Photo: Rick and Ann Meyer at the school where they met-in kindergarten.
In the town tag-line department, Spreckels was robbed. The powers that be designated Pacific Grove as America''s Last Home Town. The title could as easily have gone to Spreckels.
"I call it a Norman Rockwellian-type village," says town historian Jim Riley, whose family has owned its Spreckels home since 1904. The tiny town doesn''t have home mail delivery, and residents insist it''s by choice. It''s a "micro-ritual," Riley says about his daily habit of walking four blocks across town, chatting with neighbors.
"Sometimes a 10-minute walk turns into a 40-minute walk," he says. "It''s great to live in a neighborhood where you actually know your neighbors, not just their names."
Riley worries that Spreckels'' homey charm will be replaced by cookie-cutter subdivisions if the Monterey County Planning Commission green-lights several requests to rezone hundreds of acres of rich agricultural land surrounding Spreckels, land owned by lettuce czars Tanimura and Antle Corporation (T&A), and the Tanimura family. The Tanimura family and T&A Corporation want to rezone almost 1,400 acres-primarily farming land-for residential, commercial and heavy industrial uses. The Tanimura family also wants to redraw the Spreckels city boundary to include 73 legal lots of record where homes could be built.
An old 1907 map shows the lots do exist. However, a Sept. 16, 1992 letter from then-County Supervisor Tom Perkins says the Tanimura family traded away the development rights on the lots in question for the right to develop T & A''s Cooling and Office Facility.
Some 143 households (that''s almost 80 percent of Spreckels) have signed a petition expressing their "strong desire to maintain the existing borders" of the town. They say converting farmland to homes, shopping centers, office spaces and industrial plants will kill the town''s bucolic charm.
"Some people say these [legal lots] were planned for development, but they never happened," says local resident Sandy Ferguson. "In my opinion, they never should happen. I''d hate to see those lots be the start of housing all the way to [Highway] 68."
Founder Claus Spreckels built the company town, located about four miles west of Salinas, in 1898. He aimed to provide a complete community for his employees at Spreckels Sugar Company-houses, a store, hotel, church, theater and the like. He succeeded.
Today the sugar company is long gone, but Spreckels retains its small-town charm. The streets and many of the homes and buildings date back to the town''s beginnings. About 180 ranch style homes and fewer than 750 people inhabit a tiny cluster of development in the middle of acres and acres of some of the best ag land in the world.
The school, grocery store and St. Joseph''s Catholic Church still stand. Spreckels has its own post office and zip code, as well as its own fire and water company. The entire town citizenry can fit inside the Veterans Memorial Hall''s meeting room or on the lawn for the Spreckels Memorial Park''s annual July 4 festivities.
And while the vast majority of the town resident say they don''t want the Planning Commission to approve the requests to rezone, they still speak highly of the Tanimura clan. They say they respect the Tanimuras'' property rights. They want to be good neighbors.
Gary Tanimura says he''s just keeping his options open, come stiff salad competition or salt water intrusion.
"I don''t plan to build," he says. "I just want to retain my property rights, something for the future so that if farming is no longer financially rewarding, I have the option to do something else with the ground."
"That land was purchased knowing that it was some of the most valuable ag land in the world," counters Ann Meyer. "They have a responsibility to farm that land."
Meyer grew up in a three-bedroom ranch house on First Street. Her husband Rick grew up next-door to the home they now live in with their 23-year-old son. Ann, like her mother before her, drives a school bus for Spreckels School, and Rick works for PG&E. Most of their family still live in town.
"So you see, our whole world is Spreckels," jokes Rick.
"Where else would you ever want to live?" Ann says.
The couple tell stories of growing up in the tiny town, of tomato fights on Halloween, the time when Rick stole the pedals off of Ann''s bicycles, and town picnics and softball games in the park. They describe puddles the size of small lakes, and how Rick would carry Ann over the puddle beyond her front porch.
Nobody wore watches, Rick says, because the factory whistle blew at 8am, noon and 5pm.
"So you knew when it was lunch time, or when dad would be coming home from the factory," he says.
The two went to Spreckels School from kindergarten through eighth grade, and went to junior high and high school together in Salinas. "In kindergarten, he''d give me Indian burns," Ann says. "I swore I''d get even with him-and I did." They married on Jan. 22, 1970.
Ann and Rick say they want their tiny town to stay the same.
"The farmers around this area are supposed to be the stewards of our land, and they''ve forgotten how to grow radishes," Rick says. "They want to grow houses instead.