By Chris Furguson
Looking from Brawley’s North Best Avenue, the former Luckey Ranch looks like any other development in progress. Once you approach the handful of homes built, however, and the real problem is apparent.
All the houses, at least from a distance, look presentable. However, when approaching the small block of homes, the feeling of being in a modern day ghost town takes over.
Vehicles traveling on Best Avenue can barely be heard over the whistle of the wind through overgrown tumbleweeds and trees.
Even with the newly finished roads and barely driven, the desolation is apparent.
Lawns show the brown of dirt and the yellow of dead plants, overgrown trees obscure the view of the houses, broken windows and doors the aftermath of long departed transients looking for an evening’s shelter or longer.
“It almost feels like people suddenly disappeared one day and nature just took over,” said one resident.
The Luckey Ranch development is only one of several such housing projects in Brawley that were abandoned when the housing economic boom busted a few years ago.
The Ranch, if completed, would have consisted of two parts. The first part would have been a development of single family homes called “Wild Horse” with the other unnamed portion filled with closely packed multi-family dwellings.
“I don’t blame the city,” said one nearby resident. “This was part of the economy. Still, why did the city allow people to move in there [Luckey Ranch] when it wasn’t finished?”
A late victim of the housing market, Luckey Ranch wasn’t unique in that the developers were allowed to sell and build homes for tenants before all the necessary work was finished.
According to the city, during the development of Matthews Homes, there was a feeling of urgency by potential homeowners, the community and the developers to allow the incoming residents to complete funding and attain their certificates of occupancy. This was part-in-parcel with actions taken by most communities during the economic boom.
No one had any idea that the good times would end so suddenly.
“Therefore, the City issued a certificate of occupancy on some homes so owners could complete their financing since the sewer work was scheduled to be completed before occupancy was expected,” explained Burroughs. “Regretfully, this did not occur.”
At the time, A&R Construction was contracted by Matthews Homes to work on both the eastern portion of Best Road and the sewer pump connections from those homes to the city’s main sewer line and the area’s retention basin.
The reason why work was not completed was that A&R had not been paid for much of their labor and the company was using the sewer pump as leverage for payment.
Meanwhile, residents of the newly constructed houses were without some services and, eventually, all of the houses were abandoned by their owners. and eventually condemned by the city.
Soon afterwards, most of the houses were occupied by transients until the city kicked them out. Now, the homes lie dormant.
Currently, the city of Brawley is looking at declaring land like this and other properties as “blighted,” which is defined by the California Redevelopment Agency as “Areas that exhibit substantial and prevalent adverse physical and economic conditions requiring redevelopment assistance.”
If Brawley, by January 2011, moves forward and performs the actions necessary to declare Luckey Ranch and the other similarly abandoned areas as “Brawley Redevelopment Agency Project Areas,” the city could then receive a larger share of any taxes the land produced. This money would go towards facilities and certain services that benefit the blighted area.
According to presentations given to the City Council, the taxes generated could be as much as $80 million over the next few decades. This is a simplified version of a very complex issue, however.
After three years, JP Morgan-Chase Bank now owns the property after the developer’s sudden departure, but the city has no authority over the current houses. The city did spend more than a year negotiating with the property’s bonding agency to get Best Avenue finished, the sewer lift station and other property improvements that began in June.
Until then, the buildings still stand as a monument to a nation’s fast economic rise and an equally quick fall from grace.