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Saturday, July 17, 2004


The Battle for Cannon Beach pt. 3 - The Class War on the Shore

Part one is here. Part 2 is here.


Fireworks can be great fun to watch. They are exciting to set off. They are an integral part of many celebrations. So why are they prohibited on the ocean shore in Cannon Beach?

Visitors to Cannon Beach are able to share the ongoing marvels of nature on our beaches because we take the stewardship of these resources to heart. Our goal is proactive protection. Loud explosions, starling pops and ricocheting pieces of fireworks evoke a fear response in the bird populations. Sudden bursts of light, smoke and fireworks "shrapnel" in the air are dangerous to and unexpected by wildlife. Their reactions and responses may cause death of injury to the animal, bird or marine life.

And it goes on there. With all due respect to the seagulls I cheerfully threw bread to as a child (they rarely ate it), this is absurd. The sanctuaries in question are located on the crests of two large monoliths, Haystack Rock and another further down the shoreline. The nesting areas on these rocks are well over ten stories from the sand and not even a bazooka could reach them. Seagulls, puffins and the like don't typically fly around at night. In regards to the "loud explosions, etc," the wildlife that lingers on shores besides this boom town has endured far worse than a few hours of bottle rockets once a year. They've been battered by harsh Pacific storms, seen a good portion of their habitat replaced by million dollar homes, have choked on countless pieces of trash washed ashore from far-flung locales and have endured years of smog, off-leash dogs, oily run-off rainwater bogs and driftwood logs.

Three hours of patriotism should seem pretty weak in comparison.

This new ordinance immediately struck me as fishy. Tourists have been shooting off fireworks on the shores of Cannon Beach for decades. Was there something more behind this than a few well-meaning citizens and their concern for their fine-feathered neighbors?

Who was behind the fireworks ordinance? Could it have been the teenagers that volunteer at the edge of Haystack Rock and try to keep visitors from playing with the starfish? Or the "locals" that shell out 6-figures for beach cottages? A Cannon Beach Gazette story, published on July 1st, points to city officials and "wildlife lovers."

In recent years, battle lines have been drawn in the town between residents and the tourists and knickknack shops on Hemlock Ave, the city’s main drag, that rely on their out-of-town dollars. Last April, a cover story in the Gazette focused on an ongoing debate over a ban on short-term rental properties. Tired of tourists storming their neighborhoods, a group of locals were seeking to stretch the placidity they enjoy during the off-season to the summer months. Understandable, but what they've failed to acknowledge is:

A: For almost a hundred years Cannon Beach has served as an oceanside getaway for tourists from as far away as Tokyo.

B: The income their neighbors draw from renting their homes helps to pay the community's astronomical property taxes.

From an outsider's perspective, the birds seemed like only the latest attempt by local property owners to chase away riff-raff; riff-raff that brings with it millions of dollars to their community annually. Are the citizens behind the rental property proposal and the anti-fireworks ordinance the sort that make their living rolling Haystack Bread at the Cannon Beach Bakery or selling rock candy at Bruce's Candy Kitchen? Doubtful. Since the town's strict regulations on property development prevent high-density residential dwellings from being built within city limits, many of Cannon Beach's wage slaves no doubt commute in from nearby Seaside every morning.

Over the past two decades, the Cannon Beach has gradually shifted away from its low-key roots. In the 1970s, Hemlock was lined with bead and seashell shops. In recent years, these business have been steadily replaced by high-priced art galleries and clothing boutiques. Residential properties that once sold in low 5-figures in the mid-'80s now go for ten times that. Devoted community groups and strict regulations stop high-rise developments and corporations like Starbucks from setting up shop in Cannon Beach, preserving the city's charm. While this has prevented the city from being overrun with the tourist trap trappings that dominate it neighborhood to the north, "Sludgeside," it has caused what was once a laid-back beach town to slowly turn into an overgrown country club.

When a century-old grocery store was set to be demolished last fall, the oldest building in Cannon Beach, only few residents pushed to have it protected under a historic structure stip. It's since been replaced with a garish boutique strip mall. With firework ordinances and other strict regulations intended to chase away tourism, Cannon Beach may one day become the Oregon-equivalent of Malibu. Some might say it already is.

For someone like myself, who can't afford a million dollar home, detests tacky, $10,000 wolf sculptures and has been coming to Cannon Beach while I was still the womb, the community's slow, 180 turn comes across as an example of gentrification at its most wicked. Using an enviornmentalism as a weapon to chase away what property owners perserve to be undeseriables is revolting. Any day now, these same residents will be clamoring to block public access points to the shore.

There's an excellent Sunday Oregonian story in this ongoing power struggle, or at least an excellent thesis paper, but I obviously don't have the connections or time to pour over newspaper archives to make either happen. Cannon Beach is only one of countless examples of the gentrification parade that's been stomping all over the northern part of the state in recent years.

Next time: The conclusions to this long slog. What ensues when you mix five cops with several thousand irrittable Fourth of July revlers? Wackiness, of course.

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